Earmarks Still Studied

House GOP Leaders Offer Temporary Freeze

Posted November 19, 2008 at 6:54pm

House Republican leaders today will propose a temporary moratorium on GOP earmark requests while a study committee works up a proposal for consideration by mid-February.

The party’s new leadership team is far more aligned against earmarks than the old one, but rank-and-file Members still want them, making the issue sticky for leaders. Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and newly elected Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) plan to propose an earmark moratorium commission that would look at the issue, they announced Wednesday night.

Republican Conference Chairman-elect Mike Pence (R-Ind.), meanwhile, said that his position of favoring an earmark moratorium as the first part of a reform of the earmark process has not changed, and said an earmark moratorium would be discussed today as part of a new rules package for the Conference.

“We’re going to have a debate on the rules package tomorrow. I think we’ll have a debate going forward, but we’ll see,” Pence said. “There’s nothing quite as clarifying as the wilderness.”

Pence also noted that for the first time since he’s been in Congress, the top three elected GOP leaders — Boehner, Cantor and himself — have each personally forsworn earmarks.

Conservatives like Pence had urged Republicans to back a unilateral moratorium last year to no avail, with now-departing Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) both backing earmarks and only supporting a moratorium if the Democrats joined them.

Although a vote on a straight-up moratorium is theoretically still possible today, no one had submitted a rule change by an unofficial deadline on Wednesday.

Among the other proposals that will be voted on is a rule to make the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee an appointed position starting in the 112th Congress, with many Members pointing to friction between Boehner and NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) as a problem in this past cycle. Cole withdrew his bid to hold onto the post in the face of a Boehner-backed challenge from Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas).

There had been talk of various proposed changes to term limits for ranking members, but no changes were submitted. Some Members have agitated for a change that would allow ranking members to become chairmen if the party took back the majority even if their six years of eligibility are up, so that they would be rewarded for hard work in the minority. On the other hand, some conservatives argue for even stricter term limit rules, particularly on Appropriations.

Cantor said there could be a discussion of changes to the rule, but said he had no position on making a change.

Conservative lawmakers have generally called for stricter term limits and some for dumping ranking members wholesale, particularly on Appropriations, as part of a renewal of the party’s anti-spending principles.

Anti-earmark activist Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for example, has launched yet another quixotic bid for a seat on Appropriations and said the test of whether GOP leadership will have truly changed is whether Appropriations ranking members keep their posts.

“Do we keep the favor factory open or do we reform it?” he said.

Of Flake’s bid, ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) said, “There are a lot of people who want to be on my committee.”

He declined to comment on Flake’s desire for new ranking members.

The GOP leadership elections took place on Wednesday with a minimum of drama, and talk of unity and promises of a vigorous but honest opposition to the Democrats afterward.

In addition to Boehner, Cantor, Pence and Sessions, Policy Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) turned aside a challenge from Rep. Michael Burgess (Texas) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) takes over as vice chairwoman of the Conference. Rep. John Carter (Texas) continues as Conference Secretary.

Republicans did not release vote tallies in Boehner’s or McCotter’s contested victories.