House GOP lawmakers vote against proposal to ban earmarks

Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to keep earmarks in spending bills, despite protests within their conservative flank.

Just weeks before the House GOP is scheduled to take the gavels in the lower chamber, the conference voted 52-158 against an amendment proposed by Rep. Tom McClintock of California that would eliminate their rule enabling lawmakers to earmark spending bills if they meet specific transparency benchmarks.

The vote was held two weeks after Republicans passed a rules package which did not include Mr. McClintock’s proposal. However, following discussions, GOP lawmakers decided that following the Thanksgiving holiday lawmakers would return and consider the rule again. 

In a Washington Times op-ed last week, Mr. McClintock wrote of his earmarks ban proposal, “The new Republican majority needs to make a dramatic, concrete and credible statement that business as usual as Washington is over. Is there a more powerful statement it can make than to swear off the wasteful and corrupting practice of congressional earmarking?” 

The rule change discussion sparked conservative activists to urge GOP lawmakers to support Mr. McClintock’s rule proposal.

“Earmarks are one of the most corrupt, inequitable, and wasteful practices in the history of Congress,” conservative organizations including Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, National Taxpayers Union, and others wrote in a Tuesday letter to House GOP lawmakers.

“Supporting Rep. McClintock’s amendment is your first opportunity to demonstrate to taxpayers that the election of a Republican majority in the House will be accompanied by a serious effort to restore and maintain fiscal responsibility.”

The practice of earmarking, a measure inserted into a discretionary spending appropriations bill that directs funds to a certain recipient or recipients while skirting the competitive funds allocation process, was banned for about 10 years until 2021, when Democrats brought the practice back with certain transparency guardrails. It is commonly known as “pork-barrel” spending, and has included abuses such as funneling money to projects whose principals contribute to the reelection campaign of a sponsoring lawmaker.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat brought back earmarks with the transparency provisions and a cap at 1% of annual discretionary spending.

Republican lawmakers who serve as appropriators argued that earmarks were necessary for lawmakers to have access to deploy in spending bills because their use could just be transferred over to the executive branch in a more secretive way.

However, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said that doing away with earmarks would be an important issue as they mull over whether their group will throw their support behind House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for speaker in January.

“Look, we understand the nuances of it, that Congress should have a great degree of control of the spending and not just cede that authority to the executive branch,” Mr. Perry told reporters Wednesday. “At the same time, to not acknowledge the coercive and corrosive power of earmarks and the dealmaking that’s associated with them is to deny reality.”

Mr. McCarthy, who needs 218 votes on Jan. 3 to become speaker but was short 30 votes earlier in the month within his own conference, said he would not attempt to sway the conference over the earmarking ban issue. 

Freedom Works Vice President of Policy Cesar Ybarra said of earmarks, “wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on pet projects for lawmakers will continue to subvert the American peoples’ trust in Congress.”

“In Leader McCarthy’s ‘Commitment to America,’ Americans were promised that there would be government accountability under a Republican majority,” Mr. Ybarra said in a statement. “Yet, before even taking over the gavel, the GOP is undermining such accountability to fund projects based on necessity, opening the door for personal agendas and corruption.” 

“The House’s budget-making process is already broken, and earmarks will only continue to damage it,” he said. “Whoever the next Speaker of the House ends up being, they ought to recognize it is imperative to change the status quo when it comes to how business is conducted on Capitol Hill.”

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