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Grover Norquist pushes House GOP to reinstate earmark ban

Influential activist sends missive as Republicans face intraparty divide; decision punted to after Thanksgiving

Grover Norquist is seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Md., on Feb. 22, 2018.
Grover Norquist is seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Md., on Feb. 22, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The intraparty debate among House Republicans on a proposed earmark ban is heating up, with an influential GOP activist figure weighing in against maintaining the practice in the 118th Congress.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist — oft-credited with keeping Republicans unified against tax increases for decades by making members sign anti-tax pledges — wrote to members Friday in support of reinstituting the GOP conference’s earmark ban.

“Earmarks provide a pathway for members of Congress to spend money on special interests,” Norquist wrote. “This kind of frivolous spending is disrespectful to American taxpayers and a flagrant violation of Congressional duty to be responsible for taxpayer funds.” 

The conference was set to consider an earmark ban proposed by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., on Wednesday, but punted the decision until after the upcoming Thanksgiving recess after deciding the amendment required more discussion. 

House Republicans banned earmarks following the 2010 midterms, the last time the party flipped the House. Democrats revived the practice with increased transparency rules under House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in 2021. 

Nearly 60 percent of the House GOP conference requested earmarks during the fiscal 2023 appropriations process, with 121 Republicans requesting a total of $5.5 billion in projects. The conference voted in March 2021 to end its decadelong ban on earmarking.

Many senior Republican appropriators are in favor of continuing the practice in the next Congress, where Republicans will have a slim majority. 

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, predicted the conference would vote to continue earmarking. He said he believes the revived process is transparent, and noted earmarks are limited to 1 percent of discretionary spending. 

“It just allows members to do what I think our constituents want — to direct spending in ways Congress wants, and not the administration, whether that’s an administration of any persuasion,” he said. 

The fact that Democrats retained control of the Senate in the midterm elections “absolutely” is a factor in the House GOP’s discussion, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who is the top Republican on the Financial Services spending panel, said. 

“The next two years, we’ve got a Democrat Senate, we’ve got a Democrat White House,” he said. “Ceding all of the authority to the executive branch, to me, is not wise for Congress to do. It’s abdicating our job controlling spending.” 

Norquist argued that earmarks take up a disproportionate amount of members’ and staffers’ time, and are used to buy votes from members who would not otherwise support legislation.  

“Earmarks serve one primary purpose: to garner votes for legislation that cannot pass on its own merits,” he wrote. “In this way, the practice leads to inadequate law-making and reckless spending.” 

The House Freedom Caucus has long opposed earmarking, and the caucus’ influence may grow in a slim Republican majority in the next Congress where leadership may need every vote to pass legislation.

And before the party takes power, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is searching for the 218 votes he will need to become speaker. He’s said he’ll let the conference decide, as he did in 2021, but McCarthy faces substantial internal pressure to take a stand.

The Republican Conference nominated McCarthy to serve as speaker in the next Congress in a 188-31 vote Tuesday, or 30 votes short of what he’ll need when the full House votes on Jan. 3. 

Former Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., challenged McCarthy and has vowed he will not vote for McCarthy as speaker. “I do not believe he will ever get to 218 votes, and I refuse to assist him in his effort to get those votes,” Biggs tweeted on Friday.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a member of the Freedom Caucus, supports McClintock’s effort to ban earmarks. 

“No Republican should be for earmarks,” he said. “Earmarks is a way to buy votes, earmarks simply is buying votes, and no Republican should do that.”  

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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