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GOP holdouts on spending bills score dozens of earmarks

$123 million for signers of letter demanding deeper spending cuts

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., left, and Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., talk during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee meeting  on Jan. 31.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., left, and Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., talk during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee meeting on Jan. 31. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Seven of the biggest anti-spending conservative House Republicans have secured nearly $123 million worth of earmarks in the fiscal 2024 appropriations bills they say they’ll oppose unless GOP leaders agree to steeper cutbacks.

The seven Republicans constitute a third of the 21 GOP lawmakers who wrote last week to Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pledging to withhold their support for the bills due to spending $115 billion more, on net, than the agreement they believe they extracted from McCarthy in January calls for.

They include Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who eked out a razor-thin victory in her 2022 race and faces a rematch next year; Clay Higgins of Louisiana; Keith Self of Texas and four Floridians — Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna and Bill Posey. Amounts range from $50 million for Gaetz — good enough to put him 15th on the overall House list — to one $1.75 million project Self secured.

House Appropriations Republicans have written bills that technically adhere to the $1.47 trillion cap McCarthy agreed to with conservative holdouts during his bid for the speaker’s gavel. But they would reallocate unspent funds from past years, including Democrats’ 2022 climate and health care budget package, to boost new spending in fiscal 2024.

Those rescissions helped support the inclusion of nearly $7.4 billion in earmarks, including for signatories on the letter to McCarthy led by Reps. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Chip Roy, R-Texas. It’s not clear how that funding will fare once GOP leaders start chipping away at total spending in the bills to win support from lawmakers who signed the letter.

Below are projects included for letter signatories, and responses, if any, to questions for this report.

Boebert — $19.7 million total

  • Agriculture: $5 million for water infrastructure improvements in Rangely, Colo., and nearly $1.6 million for water infrastructure improvements in Walsenburg, Colo. Boebert received her full request for the Wolf Creek Reservoir project in Rangely, which she says will “provide a critical water supply, as well as protecting and stimulating rural development, including agriculture, for present and future water users.”
  • Interior-Environment: $1.75 million each for two water treatment plant projects in Gunnison, Colo., and her hometown of Silt, Colo.
  • Transportation-HUD: $2.2 million for water distribution in Craig, Colo., including Craig-Moffat County Airport; $1.4 million for bridge construction in Glenwood Springs, Colo.; $1.5 million for improvements to I-70 running through Glenwood Canyon; $2 million for a new I-70 interchange in Grand Junction; $1.55 million for a new signalized intersection in Bayfield, Colo.; and $1 million for the “Medal of Honor Boulevard Extension” project improving the road between Pueblo West and the city of Pueblo.

Donalds — $18 million

  • Commerce-Justice-Science: $750,000 for a water quality monitoring project at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla.; $2.5 million for Lee County Sheriff’s Office equipment upgrades, also in Fort Myers; and $1 million for Collier County Sheriff’s Office equipment upgrades in Naples, Fla.
  • Interior-Environment: $1 million for conversion from septic systems and private water wells to sewer systems and public wells in Cape Coral, Fla.; $1 million for a Fort Myers water management project; and $1.75 million to upgrade aging Fort Myers water supply infrastructure.
  • Transportation-HUD: $4 million for repairs to three bridges connecting Bonita Springs, Fla., to the barrier islands off the state’s southwest coast; $5.5 million for replacing East Periwinkle Way Bridge on Sanibel Island; and $500,000 for a Fort Myers community center serving at-risk youth.

Gaetz — $50 million

  • Military Construction-VA: $50 million for a hangar to house new advanced helicopters used for training at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. Gaetz, who initially sought $141.5 million for the project, argues that without the hanger the new fleet of helicopters remains exposed to hurricanes and high humidity.

Higgins — $18.75 million

Higgins, a fourth-term lawmaker representing Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District — the heel of the boot-shaped state — was the only one of the seven conservatives to comment for this report.

Higgins praised changes to the earmark rules that have narrowed eligibility and shrunk the total amount of project funding allocated to House bills. He said he operates within the parameters of House rules, though he opposed reinstatement of the process in 2021 and would favor banning earmarks again.

“Until then, it’s a mechanism to be used properly and ethically for the betterment of our districts,” Higgins said in a statement. Higgins said the letter to McCarthy “speaks for itself” and that he and fellow Freedom Caucus members are working with the speaker in “good faith” to “restore fiscal responsibility.”

Higgins’ projects are below.

  • Agriculture: $3.25 million to transform the old science building on the Louisiana State University Eunice campus into a “Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics (STEAM) Innovation Center”; and $1.75 million for repairs and replacement of sewer lift station equipment in St. Mary Parish.
  • Energy-Water: $500,000 extra for the Army Corps of Engineers Mermentau River project, on top of $7.4 million the administration requested.
  • Homeland Security: $2.3 million for the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal emergency operations center.
  • Interior-Environment: $1.75 million for replacement of aging galvanized water lines in Lafayette, La.
  • Transportation-HUD: $1.5 million for a taxiway realignment project at Lafayette Regional Airport; $700,000 for terminal loop and access road improvements at Lake Charles Regional Airport; $3 million each for dock infrastructure upgrades at the Port of Lake Charles and West Calcasieu Port and $1 million for a road extension project at Jennings Airport.

Luna — $2.55 million

  • Interior-Environment: $2.55 million for Gulfport, Fla., sewer repairs she says will keep groundwater and stormwater from being introduced into the sewer system and prevent sewer overflows into Boca Ciega Bay.

Posey — $11.9 million

  • Commerce-Justice-Science: $2.3 million for Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., to develop a cybersecurity program in support of the aerospace industry and businesses located along Florida’s Space Coast; $405,000 for an Indian River Lagoon restoration project at the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute; and $2.5 million towards a new aquarium building project led by the East Coast Zoological Society, which runs the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne.
  • Interior-Environment: $1.4 million for Brevard County septic system upgrades and $1.75 million for Indian River Lagoon dredging to remove excess nitrogen that feeds toxic algal blooms.
  • Transportation-HUD: $3.5 million for terminal upgrades at Melbourne Orlando International Airport.

Self — $1.75 million

  • Agriculture: Self, a 70-year-old freshman, sought and received just one earmark, $1.75 million for a mental health initiative at Texas A&M University Commerce.

One lawmaker who didn’t sign the Perry-Roy letter bears mentioning. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., is not a Freedom Caucus member but has been a thorn in the side of GOP leaders on fiscal matters.

He voted against McCarthy’s initial, partisan debt limit bill because its $4.8 trillion in cuts were not enough, and has withheld his support for rules on the floor as part of conservatives’ protest strategy.

However, Burchett has secured over $12 million in the fiscal 2024 bills, ranging from $2.3 million for a mobile health screening unit at the University of Tennessee Medical Center to $100,000 for Tennessee Bureau of Investigations genetic testing to identify missing or deceased individuals.

In a brief interview during the July Fourth recess, Burchett said he saw no conflict in requesting earmarks even as he fights to reduce spending. He pointed out he’s voted against previous appropriations bills even though they contained projects he requested.

However, as long as the ability to earmark funds for his constituents exists, Burchett said it makes sense to take advantage.

“If they’re allocating the money, it’s better to be spent in Tennessee than in San Francisco,” he said.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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