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Leahy: 50-50 earmarks split OK if GOP requests enough projects

Unclear what threshold Senate Democrats will use to determine sufficient GOP participation

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., left, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., talk as they arrive in the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., left, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., talk as they arrive in the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy will allocate half of earmarked dollars to Republicans in that chamber if some undetermined critical mass of GOP senators ends up participating in the process, a spokesman for the Vermont Democrat said Wednesday.

Leahy had initially pledged a 50-50 split as a way to entice Republicans to join him and other Democrats in a bipartisan restoration of “congressionally directed spending” after a decadelong hiatus. But after an intraparty divide over the GOP stance on earmarks spilled into the open, Leahy backtracked on that pledge a bit

That led to recriminations from Appropriations Republicans, who charged Leahy was going back on his word. But Leahy spokesman Jay Tilton said Wednesday it’s still his “intention” to split the project funds 50-50, unless “Senate Republicans did not participate in requesting earmarks in any significant way.”

For example, Tilton said, if “only a few” GOP senators asked for earmarks, Leahy “naturally would have to revisit that issue” in consultation with Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby.

Tilton didn’t specify how many Republicans would constitute “more than a few.” But the thinking seems to be that if Republicans don’t ask for enough earmarks to meet the 50 percent threshold, the difference should go to Democratic project requests that are submitted.

Leahy said in early March that he’d be “perfectly willing to divide it equally between Republicans and Democrats.” But he said earlier this week that he’d work it out once the committee started putting together its bills, frustrating Shelby.

The Alabama Republican said Wednesday that he and Leahy “never discussed” GOP senators needing to meet some sort of threshold for requesting earmarks in order to get half of the earmarked funds.

“The agreement was he would give us 50-50 in the Senate and we’d each decide,” Shelby said. “How you define a few? We never got into that.”

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