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Republicans flock to earmarking as new rules take effect

New requesters include members of House Freedom Caucus

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris is seeking funds for improvements to Ocean City roads and jetties after opting not to seek earmarks in the last Congress.
Maryland Rep. Andy Harris is seeking funds for improvements to Ocean City roads and jetties after opting not to seek earmarks in the last Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

​Interest in bringing home federal funding earmarks in appropriations bills is growing among House Republicans under new restrictions the GOP majority instituted for the next fiscal year.

New earmark requesters include some high-profile Republicans who did not request earmarks while Democrats ruled the chamber in the 117th Congress, including House Freedom Caucus members Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Andy Harris of Maryland and Ben Cline of Virginia.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, is another GOP lawmaker who didn’t ask for earmarks in the last Congress but has now jumped in.

Fourteen House Republicans in all who did not previously request earmarks, and 33 of the 40 freshman House Republicans, are participating in the “community project funding” process, according to Granger spokesman Alex Attebery.

Granger and GOP leaders instituted new requirements for members’ projects to have a “federal nexus,” or purposes authorized in prior laws. They also barred earmarks for museums, memorials and “commemoratives,” or projects named for an individual or entity.

And they eliminated earmarks entirely from the Labor-HHS-Education and Financial Services bills, after some conservatives targeted projects they deemed to be “woke” that were funded in those measures last year.

“Chairwoman Granger strengthened the guidelines and guardrails for [earmarks] in an effort to limit wasteful spending and ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly,” Attebery said in a statement. “Ultimately, more members are engaged in the appropriations process, and that is exactly what Ms. Granger set out to do as chairwoman.”

No more ‘candy’?

Monday marked the due date for members to post their earmark requests online under the chamber’s transparency rules.

With the high number of new requesters, the overall percentage of Republicans participating in the earmarking process is certain to grow this year. Nearly 60 percent of House Republicans participated in the process last year, and Republicans overwhelmingly voted against a proposal to ban earmarks, in a 52-158 vote, before the start of this Congress. 

Granger has requested $12 million worth of projects, including $5 million to construct a YMCA in Fort Worth and $3 million for a Fort Worth food bank. 

Greene has requested just under $14 million, including $3.8 million for a taxiway expansion project at Floyd County’s Richard B. Russell Airport and $2.2 million for equipment for the Rome/Floyd Fire Department. 

Along with Greene, the most surprising names on the list of new requesters are a pair of Freedom Caucus members, Harris and Cline, though both sit on the Appropriations Committee. 

Harris, the chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, has requested around $75 million in earmarks, including $20 million for a road improvement project in Ocean City and $15 million for an Army Corps of Engineers project that would improve the Ocean City Inlet’s jetties. 

Cline has only posted one request, but it’s a big one: $80 million to expand Interstate 81 in Virginia for the Transportation-HUD bill, a subcommittee that Cline sits on. 

“It’s the economic backbone of my district,” Cline said. “So it requires widening from end to end.” He said he appreciated the process’ new rules and charged that Democrats “handed projects out like candy.”

“We finally have put some structure around the program and process so that we’re only funding those core functions of government that are central to infrastructure,” he added.

Greene and Harris didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As an example of one of Harris’ project justifications, his website states that the Ocean City jetties project would help commercial boaters and fishermen access the Atlantic Ocean and is an authorized use of taxpayer dollars under the 1935 Rivers and Harbors Act.

Greene wrote to appropriators that the airport project was appropriate because it “provides much needed safety improvements to an important regional airport.” She said it was authorized under Chapter 471 of U.S. Code Title 49, dealing with airport development.

Other Republicans requesting earmarks after not participating last year include Reps. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, Michelle Steel, R-Calif., and Bill Posey, R-Fla.  Steel in 2021 did ask for and secure one earmark in the fiscal 2022 omnibus: $15.5 million for an Orange County beach replenishment project.

A vast majority of the Republican freshman class is participating in the process, and requesters bridge the ideological divide, from New York Reps. Mike Lawler and Anthony D’Esposito to Wisconsin Rep. Derrick Van Orden and Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna.

Luna is a Freedom Caucus member who initially voted against Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., during the speakership election in January. She has posted just under $5 million in requests, including $2.5 million for sewer repairs in Gulfport.

Wyoming Rep. Harriet M. Hageman, who defeated former Rep. Liz Cheney in a high-profile Republican primary, requested earmarks, as did Michigan Rep. John James, who lost two close Senate elections in Michigan before his election to the House.  

Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who returned to Congress this year after a tumultuous tenure leading the Interior Department during the first two years of the Trump administration, requested just over $75 million. His requests include $30 million for the Blackfeet Nation to build a Tribal Center and $20 million for a forestry school and job training facility in western Montana. 

Zinke said Congress should have a say in how the federal government spends its money, instead of leaving the discretion solely to agencies. 

“When they say earmarks, it’s really about appropriations,” he said. “And it goes back to Article One in the Constitution, that no money should be removed from Treasury without consequence of appropriations, by law, by Congress. So we’re doing our duty.”

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