The ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said Wednesday that she is “strongly discouraging” the notion of adding earmarks to the upcoming Senate highway bill.
Earmarks are also known as congressionally directed spending, the practice by which lawmakers can steer funding to specific projects in their home states.
“I know they’re having them on the House side, so you know that presents the question: If they’re having them on the House and we don’t have them on the Senate side, are we putting ourselves at a disadvantage? And I don’t think our members would go for that,” she said. “So, it’s a preliminary discussion, but at this point I think it would be easier and simpler for us to get through the process without the earmarks.”
Capito’s comments came as the committee worked to solidify plans to advance a surface transportation bill by Memorial Day, with the idea that it will be part of a larger infrastructure package ready for President Joe Biden to sign by September.
Carper and Capito sent a “Dear Colleague” letter on Feb. 19 asking members to list their priorities for the highway bill by March 19, but the language in that letter was broad and did not refer to specific projects.
Asked about earmarks Wednesday, Carper said his immediate focus was on the upcoming water infrastructure bill, which the full Senate is set to vote on this week.
“We’re very early in this conversation,” he said, adding, “when we get through this period after this recess, I’ll focus on it.”
Capito has not always signaled resistance to member-designated projects, indicating during a debate over appropriations earmarks that she may be willing to request some.
On April 21, Capito told reporters she was “going to look seriously at earmarking” after Senate Republicans opted not to vote to restore earmarks, essentially sticking with the status quo.
“If I can make my voice heard and be specific on it and mindful of, you know, the transparency, I don’t have a problem with that,” she said then.
And on April 14, asked whether she planned to request earmarks during the appropriations process, Capito said, “Yes.”
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which plans to include earmarks in its bill, intends to take up its surface transportation bill by the end of May. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., set a deadline of midnight April 27 for members to submit requests for specific projects.
Staff familiar with the process said there is “a high level of engagement” from House members seeking earmarks for projects for the first time since House leadership banned them in 2010. DeFazio has indicated that each member will be able to designate an equal amount — between $15 million and $20 million — for specific projects regardless of whether they vote for or against the bill.
But the House process comes with guardrails. Members are now required to certify that their requested projects have local support; that they don’t have a personal financial interest in the project; that they have sources for funding for the full share of the cost of the project beyond the amount requested; and the status of the environmental review, among other requirements.
The current highway authorization law, a one-year extension of the 2015 act, expires Sept. 30.