House spending bills spread around $8 billion worth of earmarks

Texas GOP Rep. Randy Weber secures the most earmarks at $287.5 million

Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas,  has a lot to smile about so far in this year's appropriations process.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, has a lot to smile about so far in this year's appropriations process. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 28, 2022 at 11:30am

It’s often said that if you want to win big, you’ve got to bet big.

When it comes to earmarks in spending bills, GOP Rep. Randy Weber put some Texas-sized chips on the table — and walked away with more than half.

The Texas lawmaker secured $287.5 million in the House-drafted appropriations bills — by far the most among House members battling for a limited slice of “community project funding” — out of initial requests totaling almost $547 million.

Weber’s haul includes 10 projects out of 4,386 sprinkled throughout the House’s fiscal 2023 appropriations bills, for a total of $8.2 billion. Democrats were responsible for 3,198 of those projects, worth $5.1 billion; Republicans got 1,165 for just over $3 billion, a CQ Roll Call analysis found.

Another nine were bipartisan requests totaling $70 million. Independent Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands was responsible for the rest.

The Transportation-HUD measure was by far the most popular, with 1,827 earmarks costing nearly $3.7 billion. Labor-HHS-Education comes in second, with 1,310 projects at a $1.4 billion price tag.

For the Energy-Water bill, where Weber secured most of his earmarked funds, CQ Roll Call’s analysis excludes amounts requested by the administration for Army Corps of Engineers water projects; only funding separate from or on top of Army Corps requests is counted.

For example, the total for Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., in the tally is $54.8 million, mainly due to a $40 million ask for a massive Florida Everglades ecosystem restoration project. That brings the total amount for the Everglades project in the bill to $447 million, but the remainder of that figure was part of President Joe Biden’s budget request, so Mast gets credit for the $40 million piece.

Under guidelines enforced by House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and her Senate counterpart, Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., total earmarked funds can’t exceed 1 percent of the overall pot of discretionary funds subject to appropriation, which is $1.6 trillion. By that metric, senators, who haven’t yet offered their spending bills, could add another $8 billion and remain below a $16 billion ceiling for next fiscal year.

In the fiscal 2022 appropriations bills, House lawmakers initially set aside $3.7 billion, almost exactly the figure included in the final omnibus package including joint requests from senators and House members. That record suggests House lawmakers’ projects included in the initial versions of the spending bills stand a good chance of making the final cut — if and when lawmakers agree on a final fiscal 2023 package.

However, senators’ appetites for earmarks are typically greater than their House colleagues', and out of the $9 billion enacted for this year, $5 billion were Senate-only requests. And House lawmakers are capped at 15 separate project submissions, a limitation their Senate colleagues don’t face.

Varying success rates

With almost all House Democrats submitting earmark requests but less than 60 percent of the GOP conference doing so, there was more to go around for individual Republicans who dipped their toes in the water.

Eight of the top 10 House members for earmarked dollars are Republicans, particularly those from Texas and Florida who make up five of the top 10. As large and populous states without any senators seeking home-state projects, House members from Florida and Texas tend to have substantial representation among the top earmarkers.

Florida Republican Michael Waltz is No. 2 behind Weber at $169.4 million, not counting $7.2 million he co-sponsored with John Rutherford, another Florida Republican. No one else is in triple digits.

Success rates vary widely. Waltz asked for nearly $312 million, or third-most in the House behind Weber and Mast; Waltz secured almost 57 percent of what he asked for, counting joint requests. Waltz’s projects were confined to the Military Construction-VA bill, where his earmarks such as $97 million for a communications center at Patrick Space Force Base accounted for nearly half of that bill’s total “community project funding.”

Mast sought a whopping $318 million on top of the Biden request for the Everglades project, encompassing most of his $341 million in total requests. Appropriators ignored much of his Everglades demand, so Mast succeeded in getting just 16 percent of the dollars he sought — still good enough to rank ninth among House lawmakers.

Another Florida Republican who aimed high only to be brought much lower in the actual bills is Scott Franklin. He sought $112.8 million but came out with $8 million, mainly due to a $104.8 million request for reconstruction of a Lakeland, Florida state road and highway interchange getting whittled down to $4 million.

The highest-yielding Democrat is California’s Doris Matsui, in the No. 3 overall slot with $67.8 million spread across 15 earmarks, including a $2 million highway project she jointly requested with Ami Bera, D-Calif.

Matsui got about 85 percent of the dollars she asked for. Her largest single project is $37.8 million to replace the temperature control system at Folsom Dam on the American River northeast of Sacramento. Matsui asked appropriators to fund that project at $45 million.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., is the highest-ranking lawmaker among his chamber’s top earmarkers, coming in 13th with $49.5 million worth of projects. He received funding for 14 out of 15 requests, with some taking haircuts. Clyburn secured about 54 percent of the dollars he sought.

Appropriators couldn’t fund everything members wanted, but they tried to make everyone at least a little happy.

CQ Roll Call tallied up 185 lawmakers maxing out their 15 allotted requests who received at least some money for all of them, including projects co-sponsored with other members. Of those, 172 are Democrats, including 30 out of the 36 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline incumbent protection program members who requested earmarks. Katie Porter, D-Calif., is the only Frontliner and member of her caucus to sit out the process.

Frontliners making the top 25 in terms of dollars secured include two House Appropriations subcommittee “cardinals.” Commerce-Justice-Science Chair Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, was second behind Matsui among Democrats at $52.7 million spread among 15 requests, while Energy-Water Chair Marcy Kaptur of Ohio would bring home 15 projects worth $38.8 million if included in a final bill.

While neither is a Frontliner, New York Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney are fighting for their political lives — against each other in a redrawn district.

Despite their newfound political enmity, Maloney and Nadler are sharing credit for one of their earmarks: $1.5 million for a space show at the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium in, naturally, NASA's budget. Whoever ends up representing them, residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side will likely get their slice of the pie.

Energy exports

Weber has said he only has three legislative priorities: “Energy, energy, energy.” His 14th Congressional District stretches across southeast Texas along the Gulf Coast, making it a major petrochemical and oil refining hub.

It includes the nation’s largest refineries by capacity in Port Arthur and Galveston Bay, and another in Beaumont, according to the Energy Information Administration. It’s home to the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which connects the Beaumont and Port Arthur refineries as well as a major liquefied natural gas export terminal at Sabine Pass, where more LNG facilities are under development.

U.S. LNG exports to allies in Europe surged during the early part of this year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EIA has said, driven in part by exports from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal that’s connected to the waterway.

Weber sought $283 million initially for a project authorized in the 2014 Water Resources Development Act to deepen the Sabine-Neches Waterway by 8 feet. Backers say that will allow bigger ships through, including those designed to traverse the expanded Panama Canal. House appropriators included $167.4 million for the project in fiscal 2023.

Another big Weber ask was $165 million to deepen the Freeport Harbor Channel which connects the Gulf of Mexico with Port Freeport, another major transit hub for energy, chemical and other exports and imports. Appropriators included $90.7 million for the channel deepening project.

All told, Weber procured $260.6 million in the Energy-Water bill — all but $2 million in Army Corps accounts — making up the bulk of his earmarks and roughly one-third of earmarked funds in the Energy-Water measure. Weber’s Army Corps earmarks make up 11 percent of the nearly $2.3 billion appropriators added on top of Biden’s budget request for that agency.

“As a primary supporter of America’s waterway infrastructure, the Corps ensures that the nation has the tools to maintain a competitive edge in the global market,” House appropriators wrote in a report accompanying the bill, without addressing specific earmarks. “This recommendation makes key changes to the budget request to ensure that the Corps has the resources to continue to support America’s navigation infrastructure.”

In a release, Weber said he was “delighted” by the Energy-Water projects’ inclusion, calling them “critical” for his district. “Our ports and waterways are essential to the economy, carrying products to consumers across the country and sending our exports worldwide,” Weber said.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Weber’s seat Solid Republican. He won reelection two years ago by 23 points, and Fivethirtyeight.com gives the new 14th District a 35-point GOP edge.