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House GOP tops list of earmark seekers under new regime

Changes to guidelines attract more Republicans to the practice, despite government spending critiques

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., wants money to build a naval aircraft hangar in his district.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., wants money to build a naval aircraft hangar in his district. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Earmarking federal funds for their home districts continues to grow in popularity among House Republicans, with 152 GOP members and two nonvoting delegates participating in the process this year, a CQ Roll Call analysis found. 

Nearly 70 percent of House Republicans are seeking earmarks this year, based on member request data compiled by the House Appropriations Committee. That’s up from almost 60 percent of the conference last year and just over half the year before.

Overall, House members asked for 5,067 earmarks, a nearly 7 percent increase over last year, for a total of $19.4 billion, a more substantial increase of more than 56 percent from last year’s total amount requested of $12.4 billion.

A full apples-to-apples comparison is difficult, however, since the figures include a number of overlapping projects requested by more than one lawmaker. For example, among the fiscal 2024 requests appearing more than once are at least 25 earmarks worth a combined $1.2 billion, and possibly more.

Still, there are bound to be numerous disappointed House members, since earmarks in the House’s fiscal 2024 spending bills appear likely to be capped at about $7.35 billion, or 0.5 percent of the Republicans’ total $1.47 trillion discretionary spending limit.

Republicans have a slight edge on the total amount sought, with $10.2 billion requested in 1,864 projects versus $9.2 billion for Democrats spread over 3,203 requests. The Transportation-HUD measure was the most popular bill to submit requests for, with $8.7 billion of the total.

First-time participants

The increase in GOP requesters is driven by 14 House Republicans who did not seek earmarks when the chamber was controlled by Democrats, as well as 33 of the 40 freshman GOP lawmakers.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Freedom Caucus members Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Andy Harris, R-Md., and Ben Cline, R-Va., are among the new requesters this year. 

So is Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, who was one of four Republicans voting “no” on the debt limit increase measure on Wednesday for not doing enough to curb spending.

Republicans dominate the list of top earmarkers by dollar amount, including the top six among House members. For the second consecutive year, Texas Rep. Randy Weber paced well ahead of the field, asking for a total of $686 million. 

The bulk of Weber’s requests were in the Energy-Water measure, the largest of which is a $260 million request for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to improve floodgates along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Weber said 30 million tons of cargo, valued at $117 billion, pass through the waterway each year.  

Michigan GOP Reps. Jack Bergman and freshman John James were second and third on the list, with Bergman asking for $465.8 million and James asking for $430.5 million. 

However, those totals are inflated, as the two shared a $394.1 million request for an Army Corps of Engineers project for a new lock at the Soo Locks, which connects Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. 

Two senior appropriators who serve as subcommittee chairs were also near the top of the list of requesters by dollar amount. Military Construction-VA Chairman John Carter, R-Texas, requested the fifth-highest amount, at $284.9 million, and Energy-Water Chairman Chuck Fleischmann was sixth at $273.7 million. 

Florida Rep. Brian Mast was fourth, requesting $337.3 million. Mast’s $310 million ask in the Energy-Water bill for South Florida ecosystem restoration vaulted him up the list. 

‘Catastrophic waste of taxpayer resources’

Gaetz is No. 17, thanks to a single $141.5 million request to build an aircraft hangar to house new training helicopters stationed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. Gaetz explains on his website that the new aircraft are exposed to “harsh hurricane conditions and high humidity.”

“Without this hangar the next storm will rip through this new fleet of helicopters causing a catastrophic waste of taxpayer resources,” Gaetz’s justification states.

Democrats continue to outpace Republicans when it comes to overall support for earmarking, with nearly 100 percent of their caucus, or 215 members including nonvoting delegates, seeking home-state projects.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., who is mounting a bid for Senate to replace the retiring Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, remains the only House Democrat not to seek earmarks. 

The top Democratic requester, California’s Zoe Lofgren, was seventh overall, at $265.6 million. Lofgren’s leading request was $200 million for a risk management project for the Pajaro River in the Energy-Water measure.  

After she claimed the gavel this year, Granger instituted new regulations for earmarks, which then-House Appropriations chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., brought back in 2021 after a decadelong absence. Granger kept in place many of the transparency requirements DeLauro, now the ranking member, laid out and added new requirements that projects have a “federal nexus” — purposes authorized in prior laws. 

Granger also banned earmarks for museums, memorials and projects named after individuals or entities and barred earmarks from the Labor-HHS-Education and Financial Services bills, after conservatives targeted some projects funded in those measures as “woke.” 

Transportation-HUD remained the most popular bill for requests and saw a just under 60 percent increase in total requests, from $5.5 billion last year to $8.7 billion, in 2,814 requests this year.

The lack of earmarks in the Labor-HHS-Education measure, which was the second most popular last year with $1.8 billion in 1,340 requests, meant members increasingly turned to other bills for their requests. 

For example, the Interior-Environment bill finished second in total number of requests this year, with 772 for a total of $2.5 billion, up from 464 requests for a total of $1.2 billion last year. 

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