The House Appropriation Committee unveiled a plan to bring back earmarks Friday, rebranding them as “community project funding.”
Earmarks are avenues for lawmakers to direct funding to pet projects in their home districts in spending bills. They were banned in 2011 amid the Tea Party wave.
The committee says the earmark process has been “reformed” and with checks in place to make sure the project funding is dedicated to “genuine need and not subject to abuse.” Earmarks have at times bred corruption and fraud.
Under the new plan, lawmakers would be required to post funding requests online to a searchable website the committee will set up when they submit them to the Appropriations Committee.
Members of Congress must certify to the committee that they or their immediate family do not have any financial interest in the project, and no for-profit entities will be granted money. The limit on such funds would be one percent of discretionary spending and lawmakers can only request funding for up to 10 projects.
Meanwhile, the Senate is drawing up its own bill to bring back earmarks.
The earmark issue has divided Republicans. The House Freedom Caucus has taken a hardline stance against them, while other members are open to the idea of gaining some spending power over the Biden administration.
A growing group of GOP lawmakers is prepping an aggressive campaign against bringing the practice of earmarks back.
Republicans are circulating a letter in the House and Senate to send to Appropriations chairs in both chambers in support of banning earmarks entirely, a GOP aide familiar with the plan told Fox News. Led by Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the GOP lawmakers are also planning to release an op-ed in support of the Earmark Elimination Act.
“We’re telling all the Republicans, if you stand against the swamp and you want to drain the swamp, the greatest thing the swamp, D.C., and lobbyists love would be earmarks. Bringing it back would be basically giving in to the swamp,” the source said.
The Earmark Elimination Act has earned support from some Democrats when it’s been introduced in the past, but it’s unclear if any will go for it this time around.
Budd and Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., resurrected the Earmark Elimination Act in the House earlier this month.
House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., promised last week the return of earmarks would be bipartisan. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said he would review Democrats’ proposal and speak with his party about it. “It can’t be what was around here before. There’s got to be accountability,” he said at a press conference on Friday.
Some Senate Republicans seem open to the spending system. “I’m not against earmarks,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, Ala., top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, “I’m against bad, frivolous earmarks.”
Earmarks have been a part of the federal budget for centuries but became more popular in the 1990s when a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the appropriations committees simplified the process to obtain them. They became a hotly contested campaign issue after horror stories of waste and corruption from lawmakers of both parties. Some were thrown in jail for taking bribes in exchange for earmarks. Republicans banned the practice in the House in 2011, and Democrats did the same in the Senate under President Obama shortly after.