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Republican Wants to Revive Earmarks — With Transparency (Updated)

Updated 10:01 p.m. | A Republican appropriator on Friday called for reviving congressional earmarks so lawmakers can use the power of the purse — but wants it to be transparent.  

During a wide-ranging interview airing Sunday on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota urged a transparent process of congressionally-directed spending, when asked if earmarks should be allowed again in appropriations bills.  

“I think there’s got to be, you know, full, open transparency and disclosure, but Congress has to work to make these decisions about where the dollars are spent and how, but everything has to go through a full open process, and not only … in the committee, but also on the floor,” Hoeven said, “I think that’s how you address the whole issue of earmarking in a way where Congress fulfills its rightful role that best serves the public.” He said such a practice would provide a better opportunity to slash “pork” and “cut things that should not be funded.”  

The Republican senator’s viewpoint is similar to that of some other veterans of the Appropriations panel, including Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.  

Durbin responded directly to a letter circulated Thursday by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., pushing to continue an earmark moratorium. Durbin said he didn’t like that idea.  

“I do not want to turn over the decision on the future of projects in the state of Illinois to someone in Washington who is not familiar with our state, our economy and how we can build jobs in my state,” Durbin told CQ Roll Call .  

On the broader issue of spending for the next year, Hoeven said Friday he is backing efforts by panel Democrats to work the regular fiscal 2015 appropriations bills through the committee and to the floor for consideration.  

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in March that he planned to carve out four weeks in June and July for the purpose of taking up spending bills. For Republicans, the measures could give them a rare opportunity to offer myriad amendments.  

“You talk about getting back to regular order, which is the context for this whole conversation. Appropriation bills coming to the floor are our best way to force that to happen, so you know again, I’m a member of the Appropriations Committee,” Hoeven said Friday. “I’m very supportive of trying to get these bills through the committee and to the floor because it’s very hard for the majority party not to allow an open amendment process on those appropriation bills.”  

The Senate’s rules governing floor consideration of spending bills to impose significant restrictions on extraneous amendments, making debate more manageable for the Democrats — at least theoretically.  

“That’s the best way for us to force a lot of these votes and issues to come to the floor and make people address them and vote on them, and that is what serves the American public,” Hoeven added.  

10:01 p.m. Editor’s note from Senate leadership editor Steven T. Dennis: A few hours after we posted this story, Hoeven called to complain about the headline and the lede, which he didn’t think fairly represented what he said. We disagree.  

Hoeven told me that he supported “congressionally directed spending” rather than “earmarks,” and that “if it’s done in an open, transparent and accountable way,” that’s not an earmark.  

“We should have congressionally directed spending that’s open, transparent and accountable,” he said.  

“I think there’s a difference between congressionally directed spending and an earmark. I think that’s what I was getting at. …
I did not say I want to revive earmarks with transparency.”  

While the senator, after our story posted, may want to create a new definition of earmark, we have had a definition for a long time. The Senate itself notes that congressionally directed spending items are “commonly known as ‘earmarks.'” And Hoeven’s position opposing a ban on earmarks also isn’t new.  

Before he took office, the Associated Press reported he opposed a ban on earmarks .  

And in 2012 he voted against a ban on earmarks .  

In consultation with the reporter, I did add the phrase “but wants it to be transparent” in the lede to add context.  

I also made clear in the story that he was specifically asked if earmarks should be allowed again in appropriations bills.  

You can watch the full C-SPAN video clip of Niels Lesniewski asking Hoeven about earmarks here .