House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro revealed a long-awaited bicameral agreement on Friday to restore earmarks, including major changes aimed at building bipartisan support.
Democrats are rebranding earmarks as “Community Project Funding,“ detailing a plan to tuck cash into annual spending bills that would benefit specific projects, rather than the current practice of allowing agencies to decide where the money will ultimately flow. The overhaul is an attempt to break from the politically taboo reputation of earmarks as wasteful and secretive “pork-barrel“ spending. It could also provide an incentive for members of both parties to support the next major funding deal, since lawmakers could take credit for securing funding for their districts.
“Community Project Funding is a critical reform that will make Congress more responsive to the people,” DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “Our bipartisan reforms will produce a small number of projects with strong community support, a transparent process where no member’s family can benefit and where projects are audited to ensure money was spent as planned.”
DeLauro said the revamp includes capping the overall amount of money spent on earmarks to 1 percent of discretionary spending and allowing lawmakers to submit no more than 10 project requests.
All requests would be posted online, lawmakers and their immediate families can’t have a financial stake in the requests and funds can’t flow to for-profit recipients, DeLauro said. A federal watchdog will periodically audit a sampling of earmarks, and members must justify their requests with evidence from their communities.
The announcement comes after House Democrats mulled a plan for overhauling earmarks last year but ultimately postponed the effort. The proposal at the time sparked concern among some of the most electorally endangered freshmen, who feared Republicans would use earmarks as fodder for brutal attack ads on the campaign trail.
The issue has so far divided House Republicans, with members of the House Freedom Caucus taking a hard line against bringing back earmarks, while other GOP lawmakers have been open to reform and gaining some spending power over the Biden administration. The fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee plans to meet next week to debate the issue.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer pledged last week that the return of earmarks would be bipartisan. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he would review Democrats’ proposal when it is released and speak with his party about it.
“Steny has talked to me. He talked to me last Congress. He talked to me this Congress,” McCarthy said at his press conference on Friday. “If he wants to propose something, I will look at it. But … it can’t be what was around here before. There’s got to be accountability.“
Senate Republicans have been slightly more receptive to restoring the special spending system. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would defer to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I’m not against earmarks,” Shelby said. “I’m against bad, frivolous earmarks.”
Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.