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House GOP Fires Back Over Water Bill Earmarks

Updated: 6:14 p.m.

House Republicans on Friday accused Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar of trying to score cheap political points on earmarks after the Minnesota Democrat sent a letter announcing that GOP Members had not withdrawn their requests for earmarks in the Water Resources Development Act.

Republicans in March agreed to a Conference-wide moratorium on earmarks for one year, and rank-and-file Members were instructed by leadership to file letters withdrawing any earmark requests that had previously been submitted.

Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) said shortly thereafter that he had begun receiving requests from Republicans to withdraw the projects they had submitted last year for inclusion in a WRDA bill, and GOP sources said most of the 120 Republicans who submitted requests have asked Mica to remove them.

But Oberstar said in his letter Thursday that he had received withdrawal notifications from only a handful of Republicans, and he planned to go ahead soon with a WRDA markup on the assumption the earmark requests are still valid.

Republicans countered Friday that Members who have asked Mica to withdraw their requests have satisfied the moratorium requirement.

In an e-mail to Republican press secretaries, House Republican Conference spokesman Matt Lloyd wrote: “Earlier this week, Chairman Oberstar may have sent a letter to your office asking if your Member intends to follow the House Republican moratorium on earmarks for the Water Resources Development Act. If you are receiving press inquiries regarding this letter, and have already sent your letter to Ranking Member Mica, you should tell your reporters that you have already withdrawn your earmark requests. We would also recommend the following response: ‘This is a transparent attempt by Chairman Oberstar to play politics on this issue. He and his staff are well aware that Ranking Member Mica is collecting all the withdrawal letters and will release them at the appropriate time.'”

A GOP source said, “Once Republicans adopted this [earmark] policy, Mica talked with Oberstar about the process. I’m not aware that the Democrats asked us at any point for the withdrawal letters.”

Mica has asked Republicans to submit their withdrawal letters and says he will provide them to Oberstar.

Oberstar denied any nefarious intentions.

“The letter concerning project requests in the Water Resources Development Act of 2010 was not intended to start a ‘political fight.’ Instead, it had a very practical purpose: to move the bill forward,” Oberstar said. “Rather than trying to guess which Members of the Republican Conference want to abide by the earmark moratorium from their leadership and which Members continue to support the projects and studies that they requested, we asked for clarification from each Member. We want to ensure that there is no confusion later on.”