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Earmark fans grow among House GOP as total requests swell

Increasing popularity of ‘community project funding’ comes as Republicans could face dicey post-election decision

Texas Republican Rep. Randy Weber has gone from requesting zero earmarks last year to asking for the most dollars of any House member this year.
Texas Republican Rep. Randy Weber has gone from requesting zero earmarks last year to asking for the most dollars of any House member this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

​House lawmakers’ appetite for earmarking has grown a year after Democrats resurrected the practice, particularly among Republicans who will face a sensitive decision on whether to maintain “community project funding” in the next Congress if they retake the chamber in November.

Thus far, 121 House Republicans have requested $5.5 billion worth of projects that appropriators are evaluating as they begin writing the fiscal 2023 spending bills the panel aims to mark up next month. That’s up from 109 last year, and it means nearly 6 out of 10 GOP lawmakers are now participating in the process, up from just over half in 2021 during the process’ inaugural run after an 11-year ban.

Overall, House lawmakers have requested 4,743 earmarks thus far, a 57 percent jump from last year’s submissions, for a total of nearly $12.4 billion — a nearly 75 percent increase, a CQ Roll Call analysis found. Republicans make up 35 percent of those seeking earmarks and about 44 percent of the total funds requested. Republicans make up the top seven requesters by dollar amount, and 14 out of the top 20 in the House.

The overall increase this year isn’t a surprise as each member was allowed 15 requests this year, up from 10 each last year, and House lawmakers are allowed to ask for projects in a larger number of accounts across the spending bills.

The fiscal 2023 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill received by far the most attention from lawmakers, accounting for $5.5 billion of the total dollars and over 2,000 individual project requests. The Labor-HHS-Education bill had the next highest amounts, at 1,340 individual requests totaling $1.8 billion. The figures include some overlapping projects requested jointly by multiple members.

Weber takes the lead

Texas Rep. Randy Weber blows away the rest of the field at $546.5 million worth of submissions.

Almost $450 million of Weber’s requests are for two major Army Corps of Engineers waterways projects, with $283 million requested to deepen the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which Weber describes on his website as the country’s “leading Energy & Military exporter and #1 [liquefied natural gas] exporter,” and $165 million to deepen the Freeport Harbor Channel. 

Weber’s asks are striking considering he didn’t request any earmarks last year. Weber, whose aides didn’t respond to requests for comment, is one of 19 House Republicans seeking project funding this year who skipped the fiscal 2022 process.

Two of those won their seats in 2021 special elections after it was too late in the process to obtain earmarks: Texas Rep. Jake Ellzey and Ohio Rep. Mike Carey.

Others participating in this year’s process after sitting out last year include some notable names. Among them is former Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was ousted from that role after repeated clashes with former President Donald Trump.

[House appropriators officially bring back earmarks, ending ban]

Two prospective committee chairs in the next Congress, Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul of Texas and Oversight and Reform ranking member James R. Comer of Kentucky, have also decided to ask for earmarks. So has Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a former Oversight and Reform chairman in his previous stint on Capitol Hill and a veteran of the prior earmarking era.

“Years ago, Rep. Issa insisted on new transparency and extensive disclosure standards for this process, which are now established,” Issa spokesman Jonathan Wilcox said. “With these improvements, he identified infrastructure projects that are not just needlessly delayed, but decades overdue.”

Issa requested almost $59 million in funding, with $20 million for a highway project in Escondido connecting Interstate 15 and State Route 78 as his leading request.

Cheney, who is facing a primary from a Trump-endorsed challenger, requested five projects for a total of just over $12.5 million. Cheney’s highest-dollar request is $7 million to replace an overpass in Gillette, which will be named after former GOP Sen. Michael B. Enzi, who died last year.   

A McCaul aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he didn’t request projects last year because deadlines came too quickly after the new guidelines were announced. The truncated process didn’t allow McCaul “sufficient time to fairly evaluate requests” from potential district beneficiaries, the aide said.

This year’s late April deadlines came over a month after House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., first announced guidelines for the fiscal 2023 process. That’s about the same initial timeline as last year, although deadlines were later extended twice, including to account for the late submission of President Joe Biden’s first budget request.

Comer spokesman Austin Hacker declined to comment on his boss’s newfound appreciation for earmarks; Cheney’s staff didn’t respond to requests for comment.

[In the game of earmarks, Shelby has no peers]

The net number of new GOP earmarkers this year is lower than the total number of new participants since seven who requested community project funding last year did not do so this year. Two of those have resigned from Congress: former Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y. Another died earlier this year: Don Young, R-Alaska.

The four Republicans still serving who submitted requests last year but not this year are Reps. Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin, Bob Gibbs of Ohio, Michelle Steel of California and American Samoa’s delegate, Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, who like other delegates can’t vote on the floor.

Spokespersons for Fitzgerald, Gibbs and Steel didn’t respond to requests for comment. Gibbs isn’t running for reelection in November.

Thinning ranks?

Once the new Congress begins, the ranks of GOP earmark supporters may thin out somewhat.

For instance, West Virginia Rep. David B. McKinley lost his primary to fellow Rep. Alex X. Mooney, who received Trump’s endorsement and shuns community project funding. The fate of earmarker Rodney Davis, R-Ill., is similarly up in the air as voters prepare to choose between Davis and Mary Miller, R-Ill., another Trump-endorsed earmark critic.

[GOP primaries could signal direction of party’s earmarks stance]

Other GOP earmark requesters are retiring and won’t be around for the intraparty decision over earmarks their conference might face after the elections. They include Michigan’s Fred Upton; Pennsylvania’s Fred Keller, another new earmarker this year; Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger; New York’s John Katko; and Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez.

Still, with polls pointing toward a GOP victory in November, the latest earmark figures show a net increase in support among Republicans for the practice — which could give the party’s leaders fits as they try to unify the conference around a legislative agenda.

Top House Republicans remain split on the program. Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and conference chair Elise Stefanik of New York each requested project funding in both years since earmarks’ return. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger of Texas did not.

There are no such divisions among House Democrats, as California’s Katie Porter continues to be the one member on her side avoiding earmarks.

Texas and Florida are well represented among the top House earmark requesters; with the exception of Alabama’s Mike D. Rogers, who’s No. 4 on the list, the remaining five out of the top six are Republicans from those two states. Aside from Weber, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, is on the list at No. 5.

Florida Republicans Brian Mast, Michael Waltz and Scott Franklin round out the top six. 

Mast is No. 2 overall after Weber at $341 million in total requests, of which $318 million is for just one project: the long-running Florida Everglades restoration program. Biden requested $407 million in his fiscal 2023 budget request, so Mast’s request would take the total Everglades figure up to $725 million.

Waltz and Franklin, like Weber, are newcomers to earmarking this year.

Waltz is No. 3 with almost $312 million in requests, entirely within the Military Construction-VA bill, including $97 million for a new communications facility at Patrick Space Force Base. Franklin’s $113 million consists of two Transportation-HUD asks, including $104.8 million for a highway project in Lakeland, Fla.

The top Democratic earmark requester is C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., who clocked in at eighth overall with $107 million worth of submissions. Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, is the only other Democrat in the top 10. 

The biggest request from Ruppersberger is $76 million for the Army to build a test maintenance fabrication facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, replacing a facility built in 1918 that does not meet the Army’s current need. The largest request from Kahele, who is running for governor, is $87.9 million for housing at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base. 

Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., requested the third- and fourth-largest dollar amounts on their side of the aisle.

Clyburn, the only member of elected House leadership in the top 20, is asking for $91.7 million. His top request is $27 million to build a new science and technology building at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. 

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