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Majority Democrats in the House and Senate are preparing to bring back so-called “earmarks,” which have been widely criticized in the past because they are utilized to fund pet projects in individual lawmakers’ districts or states.
But they won’t be called earmarks this time; Democrats have rebranded them as “community project funding.”
The House Appropriations Committee introduced a plan on Friday to bring back earmarks, and the Senate is said to be working on its own bill, Fox News reported.
Earmarks were eliminated by the GOP House majority after Republicans retook control of the chamber following the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2010. But the Appropriations panel said the process is going to be “reformed” this time around to ensure that any funded project goes to a “genuine need and not subject to abuse.”
When they were still in use, critics of earmarks noted how they would often be used in a manner that contributed to waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.
However, under the new measure, lawmakers will have to post their funding requests on a searchable website the committee is planning to launch when they are submitted for consideration.
Lawmakers will be required to confirm and verify to the committee neither they nor any members of their family will be benefitting financially in any projects for which they are requesting funding. Also, the Appropriations Committee will limit earmarks to just one percent of annual discretionary spending, and members can only ask for funding of 10 projects or less.
For-profit entities also will not receive any funds.
Republicans, notes Fox News, are divided over the issue. The House Freedom Caucus remains steadfastly against them, but other members are keen to obtain some level of spending control over President Joe Biden’s White House.
That said, a group of GOP lawmakers seeking to block the earmark proposal is growing in numbers.
In a column for The Hill published last week, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) argued against bringing earmarks back, saying they will add to an already enormous debt and lead to additional “dysfunction” in Congress.
“Remember the $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska? That was an earmark. What about half a million dollars for a teapot museum in North Carolina? Or $3.4 million to build a tunnel for turtles in Florida? Those were also earmarks,” Normal wrote.
He went on to cite the group Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog organization that says Congress has spent $375 billion in earmarks since 1991.
“While wasteful spending certainly needs to be exposed, there’s more in this debate to be considered than just earmarks themselves,” he wrote. “The larger issue is that our entire appropriations process has devolved into a national embarrassment.
“If Congress were doing its job, we’d be spending much of the spring and summer months focused on appropriations” as the Constitution requires, he added. “However, instead of accomplishing this through regular order, an odd combination of procrastination and political laziness is now the norm.”
Normal also decried what is now “the annual holiday tradition” of slapping together an omnibus spending bill that is several thousand pages long “that nobody has had time to read.”
Other GOP lawmakers including Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas are working behind the scenes to convince appropriations chairs in both chambers to support the Earmarks Elimination Act, which has garnered support from some Democrats in the past.
“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,” a GOP aide told Fox News.
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