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Earmarked accounts in Senate won’t overlap cleanly with House

Chambers differ on which accounts are eligible, setting up headaches for appropriators

A member of a security detail stands guard outside the Senate Appropriations Committee room in the Capitol on July 21, 2020.
A member of a security detail stands guard outside the Senate Appropriations Committee room in the Capitol on July 21, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House and Senate appropriators could be headed for a challenging conference process later this year when both chambers try to reconcile the different accounts they’ve made eligible for earmark requests.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s list of eligible accounts, released Wednesday, leaves out the Defense spending bill entirely and selects various accounts throughout nine funding bills that don’t match up neatly with their counterparts on the House Appropriations Committee.

[GOP’s earmark schism evident in ‘earmark’ disclosures]

The mismatched earmark accounts will likely cause headaches for subcommittee chairs and ranking members months from now when they need to merge the House and Senate’s fiscal 2022 bills, including fitting their earmarked projects under their respective spending caps.

Earmarks, sometimes known as member-directed spending, are the means by which lawmakers can steer funding to specific projects in their home states or districts.

Defense bill earmarks, which used to total in the billions of dollars each year, are a notable absence from the Senate’s “community project funding” guidelines.

House appropriators would allow Defense projects, though they’ve considerably scaled back from the earlier earmarking era by allowing projects only within research and development accounts. House members have requested 15 projects in that spending bill totaling more than $32 million dollars, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of submitted requests.

A Senate GOP aide said that since “defense spending largely goes to for-profit corporations through competitively-bid processes, there is a bipartisan agreement to not accept congressionally directed spending requests in the Defense bill.”

[Leahy tees up return of earmarks in Senate spending bills]

The Senate Appropriations Committee, on average, selected more accounts per bill than the House did, with the exception of the Military Construction-VA measure where the accounts line up.

The other eight funding bills do have some account overlap. For example, rural community facility grants in the Agriculture spending bill, the Army Corps of Engineers in the Energy-Water spending bill and federal land acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund are eligible in both chambers.

The State-Foreign Operations and Legislative Branch subcommittees are the only two panels unlikely to run into any issues with earmarks during conference, as neither are eligible for requests.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Wednesday announcement also set due dates for the earmark requests, with the first due on June 16 and the last due on July 8.

Here’s a breakdown of the major differences between House and Senate eligible accounts:

  • Agriculture: Unlike the House, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s salaries and expenses and Natural Resources Conservation Service accounts, including watershed protection and flood prevention programs, would be open for earmarking in Senate bills, as well as watershed flood prevention operations. The House however would allow Agricultural Research Service buildings and facilities grants, which the Senate would not. The only account the two subcommittees have in common for earmarking is rural community facilities grants.
  • Commerce-Justice-Science: Similar earmarked accounts with the exception of the Senate allowing National Institute of Standards and Technology research facilities construction grants.
  • Defense: None allowed in the Senate, while the House is allowing earmarks in Research, Development, Test and Evaluation accounts across the military services.
  • Energy-Water: Both would allow earmarking within Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation accounts, while the Senate would add several Energy Department offices as well.
  • Financial Services: Unlike the House, the Senate will allow earmarks in the National Archives and Records Administration and General Services Administration federal buildings acquisition and construction.
  • Homeland Security: House appropriators will allow earmarks for Federal Emergency Management Agency nonprofit security grants.
  • Interior-Environment: The House will allow earmarking for Forest Service state and private forestry projects, while senators can earmark within the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund and various Interior land management accounts, as well as Bureau of Indian Affairs special initiatives.
  • Labor-HHS-Education: The Senate is allowing earmarks within Health and Human Services child abuse prevention programs and aging and disability services, as well as Education Department rehabilitation services training programs.
  • Military Construction-VA: No differences; both chambers will allow military construction earmarks, but none within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Transportation-HUD: The Senate will allow earmarks for transportation research and rail capital projects, in addition to other highway and transit capital projects and Housing and Urban Development economic initiatives both chambers will get to earmark.

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