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Earmarks are likely coming back next year, House Democratic leader says

By Jennifer Shutt, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders are proceeding with plans to bring back earmarks for the 117th Congress, according to Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer.

Hoyer, D-Md., said in an interview that sometime after the Appropriations Committee's new chairwoman is elected the week of Nov. 30, she will begin soliciting House lawmakers to "ask for congressional initiatives for their districts and their states."

The three candidates to replace retiring House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., are all on board with restoring "congressionally directed spending," as it has come to be known.

Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida had previously endorsed the return of earmarks. Connecticut's Rosa DeLauro had hesitated but now "unequivocally" backs restoring line items for members' districts after further conversations, an aide said.

Hoyer said all three support, with leadership's backing, transparency measures similar to those in place a decade ago before the practice was banned entirely. That includes making a project's requestor publicly available as well as the justification for spending taxpayer dollars on it, and clearly noting in legislation which provisions constitute member-requested items.

"There are three candidates for chair of the Appropriations Committee. All have indicated they are for congressional initiatives, congressional add-ons with the structure I've just talked about — transparency when you ask, when it's given, when it's on the floor," Hoyer said.

He left a little wiggle room on the topic, noting that the decision was ultimately up to appropriators and the caucus.

"Obviously, the committee is going to have to consider how they are going to do it, and I think that will largely be up to the new chair of the Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee chairs and very frankly the members of the Congress," Hoyer said. "There could be a situation in which the committee could decide they don't want to do that."

 

Hoyer said he's optimistic that both Republicans and Democrats will participate in the process if earmarks come back into the picture.

He isn't concerned that Senate Republicans' permanent ban on earmarks will complicate negotiations on appropriations bills if the GOP keeps control of that chamber following two Georgia runoffs on Jan. 5.

"I don't expect it to be a partisan effort. Now that doesn't mean that everybody does participate," he said. "But I know there are a lot of Republicans on our side and a lot of Republicans on the Senate side who want to ... have the ability to invest in their states."

Democrats and Republicans have been talking about bringing back earmarks since just after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, added a ban to House GOP rules in 2011. Senate Democrats followed a few months later with the support of President Barack Obama.

Senate Republicans made their earmark prohibition permanent last year, but several party members, including Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., support bringing the practice back.

When Democrats regained control of the House in 2019 the prohibition on earmarking in that chamber technically ended, and internal discussions began about when and how to bring back congressionally directed spending. Lowey opted not to bring back earmarks during this session after receiving pushback from new, more moderate members of the party's who were concerned about oversight, transparency and the politics of bringing back earmarks.

Freshman New York Rep. Max Rose was one of those, but he has conceded defeat to his GOP challenger. The Associated Press hasn't yet called the race but the most recent tally has him behind by about 37,000 votes.

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