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House GOP appropriators unveil tighter earmark rules

New Appropriations chairwoman is cutting back on total dollars, types of projects allowed

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, faces competing demands on local project funds within GOP Conference.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, faces competing demands on local project funds within GOP Conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Clarified 11:53 am | House Republican appropriators have banned earmarks from the Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services and Defense bills and put fresh restrictions on “community project funding” in new rules regulating the process on that side of the Capitol.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, announced the new rules Tuesday night. Earmark spending will be capped at 0.5 percent of total discretionary spending in the House’s fiscal 2024 bills, and members will have to submit a written statement describing the “federal nexus” for their earmark requests.

The fiscal 2023 omnibus included $15.3 billion in earmarks, which accounted for around 0.9 percent of discretionary spending.

If House Republicans are able to follow through on their pledge to cut total fiscal 2024 appropriations back to levels enacted two years ago, earmarked funds in House spending bills would drop to about $7.4 billion. That’s less than half of what was appropriated in this fiscal year’s omnibus, and about 10 percent less than the $8.2 billion included in last year’s initial House bills.

But the Senate’s new earmark guidelines allow for a continuation of the current 1 percent cap on overall earmarked funds, so the final number for home-state projects — if there’s an eventual fiscal 2024 spending agreement — could ultimately still approach last year’s haul.

Additionally, Republicans have banned memorials, museums and commemoratives — projects named for an individual or entity — from being eligible for earmarks.

Other rules already in place for the process, which Senate and House Democrats brought back during the fiscal 2022 appropriations process, remain in place. For-profit recipients are banned, and members are required to disclose their requests and certify they do not have a financial interest in their projects. The Government Accountability Office will continue to audit a sampling of enacted projects.

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The guidelines keep in place the limit of 15 requests per member that the House had last year.

Along with the new bans for the Defense, Financial Services and Labor-HHS-Education bills, the State-Foreign Operations and Legislative Branch subcommittees will continue to disallow earmarks.

Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in a statement said she is “saddened” that Republicans are preventing earmarks in the Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services and Defense bills.

“This is not about Democrats or Republicans. It is about communities that need federal support,” she said. “By excluding these subcommittees, they are decreasing opportunities for Members to help people in their districts to meet urgent needs directly.”

DeLauro said that by barring earmarks in the Labor-HHS-Education bill, health centers, hospitals, community colleges and other postsecondary institutions across the country that received funding last year will no longer be eligible.

She said those projects included “hundreds” requested by Republicans, calling out a handful secured by GOP appropriators like Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., the new chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee; Tony Gonzales of Texas; Ashley Hinson of Iowa and Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma.

The enhanced restrictions are part of an effort by appropriators to get members of the conference to support spending bills, Aderholt said Tuesday.

“I think the bottom line is that we have a lot of our members that are very concerned about some of the abuses that have happened in earmarks in the past, especially when they really find it a stretch from the federal nexus,” he said. “And I think [Labor-HHS-Education] had more of those than any of the other appropriations bills.”

While GOP appropriators are cutting back in a number of areas, the new guidance also expands earmark eligibility in certain places.

For example, Republicans are now allowing rural water projects to qualify for Agriculture bill funding, provided they are located in communities with a population of 10,000 or less and local recipients pony up 25 percent of the cost. And port and rail infrastructure accounts in the Transportation-HUD measure would be opened up for community project funds.

The Labor-HHS-Education bill in the fiscal 2023 omnibus included $2.7 billion in earmarks, second only to the Transportation-HUD measure, which had $5.6 billion. The Financial Services bill had the second lowest tally of the bills that accepted earmarks, with $230 million total, and Defense had the lowest amount of earmarks, with $54 million.

This report has been clarified to reflect that the new GOP cap on earmarked funds only applies to House bills.

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