GOP Conference Restores Hope for Earmark Return

Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner banned congressional earmarks, which critics called political pork barreling. Now Republicans realize decisions they used to make in appropriations bills are made by federal agencies.

Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner banned congressional earmarks, which critics called political pork barreling. Now Republicans realize decisions they used to make in appropriations bills are made by federal agencies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan stifled a move by a House GOP conference last week to restore the use of direct congressional spending, known as earmarks, by promising his colleagues a vote on the matter early next year. 

Ryan’s move appears to have ended, for now, discussions around whether to roll back the five-year-old earmark moratorium. 

Support has been building for years among Republicans to restore the use of earmarks, which former Speaker John Boehner notoriously brought to in end in 2010 in an effort to curb government spending. At the time, Boehner and his colleagues argued that earmarking appropriations bills bred corruption and lead to wasteful spending for congressional pet projects. However, proponents of earmark revival argue that the ban has simply ceded the “power of the purse,” as provided to Congress in the Constitution, to the executive branch.

Although several attempts to lift the ban over the last five years have proven fruitless, last week’s conference is the most significant indication to date of widespread support for an earmark revival. 

In a closed-door meeting, the House Republican Conference met to adopt GOP rules for the new Congress. The conference was expected to  vote on two amendments concerning the use of earmarks on appropriations bills. The first amendment would have allowed Members of Congress to direct appropriations to federal, state or local government projects. The second would have modified the moratorium to allow lawmakers to direct Army Corps of Engineers funding for projects. 

Allegedly fearing a populist backlash just one week removed from Donald Trump being elected on the promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Ryan urged his colleagues not to act on either amendment. Ryan’s efforts suggests there was enough support in the room to lift the moratorium. Since the original ban was only adopted by the House GOP as its rule, not as a House rule, a simple majority vote in the conference would have been enough.

In return for pulling the amendments from consideration, Ryan promised his members a more thorough review of earmarks and a vote on the measure by the end of the first quarter of 2017.

While significant, any effort to revive earmarks will likely face a wall of powerful opposition. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, a former Indiana congressman, have all been staunch critics of the funding strategy at one point or another. 

Nevertheless, earmarks may well be on their way back – even in a Republican-controlled Congress. 

Previous CFM Posts On Earmarks

http://www.cfm-online.com/federal-lobbying-blog/just-dont-call-it-an-earmark.html?rq=Congressional%20earmarks

http://www.cfm-online.com/federal-lobbying-blog/2016/7/12/hoyer-lays-out-congressional-reform-agenda?rq=Congressional%20earmarks

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com