House Republicans vote to approve restoring earmarks after decade-long ban

FILE PHOTO: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. Reuters
  • The House Republican caucus voted to approve the restoration of earmarks on Wednesday.
  • Democrats introduced reforms weeks ago as it sought to lift the GOP’s decade-old ban on earmarks.
  • Restoring the use of earmarks could make legislation easier to pass for both parties.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republicans instituted a ban on earmarks a decade ago, following a series of scandals related to abuses, but on Wednesday, House Republicans voted to support bringing earmarks back, potentially signaling a positive trajectory for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

The vote – conducted by secret ballot – follows House Democrats’ introduction of earmark reform guidelines at the end of February. Restoring earmarks could help ease legislation that doesn’t equally benefit all representatives.

“There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters after the vote. “This doesn’t add one more dollar. I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not Biden.”

However, Senate Republicans still have not voted on restoring earmarks, and some of them have already voiced clear opposition to doing so.

On Saturday, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters that earmarks “are not the right way to go.”

“They have been associated with excess, and it would represent a turn to the worst,” he said.

The ban on earmarks – which Democrats have been calling “community-funding projects” – has a loaded history, and for a time, had bipartisan support.

In 2005, Alaska Rep. Don Young secured $US233 ($302) million for a bridge that would connect two small cities, which became known as the “bridge to nowhere,” with critics saying the bridge would not significantly benefit Young’s community. The same year, former California Rep. Duke Cunningham landed himself eight years in prison for accepting $US2.4 ($3) million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.

Former President Barack Obama in 2011 said that he would veto any bill containing earmarks, and until 2019, when then-House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey explored bringing earmarks back, Congress functioned without the community funding measure for a decade.

And on March 1, 10 Republican senators, led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana, introduced a bill to permanently ban earmarks. Rubio said in a statement that earmarks led to “corruption and waste, and bought votes in Congress for unpopular legislation.”

-Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) March 2, 2021

Bringing back earmarks with Republican support could help Biden move forward with his infrastructure bill, which he and other Democrats have said they would like to be bipartisan. The president has not yet announced specific funding plans for infrastructure, and conservative and moderate lawmakers have already made it clear that they will not support another bill that uses reconciliation.

But if the GOP lends support to earmarks, they could have a greater say in the course the infrastructure bill might take and where the spending would go, which would be a relief to lawmakers like Rep. Sam Graves – ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – who said in a statement that he does not want “another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

The passage of Biden’s $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus bill was his first major economic victory, and with the potential return of earmarks, along with possible reforms to the filibuster – which Biden said on an ABC News interview on Tuesday that he would support – implementing his economic agenda could occur with greater ease than expected.