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Earmarks in House spending bills increase over last year’s versions

Republican majority again dominates ‘community project funding’ in appropriations bills for new fiscal year

Rep. James R. Comer’s earmark total jumped more than tenfold from less than $20 million in last year’s House bills.
Rep. James R. Comer’s earmark total jumped more than tenfold from less than $20 million in last year’s House bills. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

​ANALYSIS — Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, step aside: There’s a new champion House earmarker, and it’s Kentucky Republican James R. Comer, the powerful Oversight and Accountability panel chair. 

Comer’s $241.3 million haul puts him way out front in the rankings of fiscal 2025 appropriations bills either passed by the House or moving through the Appropriations Committee markup process. 

The reason is one massive Army Corps of Engineers project included in the Energy-Water bill: $218 million for an addition to the Kentucky Lock about 22 miles from where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers meet. Expanding the lock would allow more and larger barges through, benefiting local communities and the inland waterways industry centered in Paducah, Ky., Comer says. 

Comer’s largess dethrones Fleischmann, R-Tenn., the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee chairman who in fiscal 2024 delivered the most earmark dollars to his constituents among House members, largely by virtue of one similarly sized mega Army corps project. 

Fleischmann’s $38.8 million total still puts him in the upper echelon of fiscal 2025 earmarkers, a place thoroughly dominated by Republicans, as it was last year. The first Democrat on our list doesn’t appear until the No. 50 spot: Donald S. Beyer Jr. of Virginia, with $30.7 million.

This year’s total in the House bills — which will roughly double when projects in the yet-to-be unveiled Senate spending bills are added in the final bargaining — is just over $8 billion, spread across 4,830 individual earmarks. 

The dollar amount is up about 9 percent from what was included last year in the initial fiscal 2024 House bills, which totaled a little less than $7.4 billion worth of earmarks, while the number of projects is up less than 3 percent.

[Republicans hoover up earmarks in House spending bills]

Given almost all House Democrats seek earmarks while a large contingent of Republicans do not, the former always dominate when it comes to number of individual projects sought. 

Of the earmarks included in the seven spending bills with “community project funding,” as House lawmakers have rechristened earmarks, 63 percent were put in by Democrats. But when it comes to overall dollars included, the proportions are reversed: Democrats got just 37 percent of the money, around $3 billion, leaving the rest for the GOP majority.

New players on the scene

Republican support for earmarking continues to win over converts, though there are still 67 GOP lawmakers who don’t request any community project funding, or about 30 percent of the conference.

Two new participants this year are Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, who’ve long been tough federal spending critics. Massie did request earmarks when House lawmakers were putting together their initial multiyear surface transportation reauthorization bill in 2021, though never for appropriations bills. 

Another newcomer to the game is Rep. Vince Fong, R-Calif., who moved lightning fast to get in his requests after winning a special election to replace ex-Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who resigned from Congress months after losing his speaker’s gavel. 

Fong won the primary on March 3, after which it became obvious he would succeed McCarthy in the heavily Republican 20th District, which he did after the May 21 special election. He was sworn in on June 3, well past earmark request deadlines, but GOP leaders still at least partially funded his requests, including $6 million for Fong projects in the fiscal 2025 bills.

McCarthy was not an earmarker during the special projects’ latest incarnation, which the-then Democratic majority brought back in 2021 after a decadelong hiatus. McCarthy did request earmarks during their prior run, however.

Cuellar projects axed

One House lawmaker who is noticeably absent from the list: Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. The former Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member had to step down from his post after he and his wife were indicted by the Justice Department in late April on several charges, including bribery and money laundering. 

Cuellar sought 16 earmarks in five of the spending bills, worth a little more than $16 million, but was shut out of all of them. His spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did staff for Democratic appropriators who make the decisions about who receives project funding on their side of the aisle.

Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar makes his way to House votes in the Capitol on June 5. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

But the situation is reminiscent of last year around this time when former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., saw GOP appropriators ax all $36 million of his fiscal 2024 earmark requests. Santos had already been in hot water over fabrications of his personal background and various criminal charges, and he was later expelled from the House after an Ethics Committee investigation revealed the extent of his violations.

Familiar pattern

For the most part, the top of the earmarking list follows a familiar pattern from last year: The upper tiers are filled with appropriations “cardinals,” as subcommittee chairs are known, other senior lawmakers and vulnerable incumbents who could get a boost by showing the dollars flowing back home, with some exceptions.

After Comer, whose earmark total jumped more than tenfold from less than $20 million in last year’s House bills, the next biggest winner is Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., No. 2 on the list with $178.8 million. Womack’s total in the fiscal 2024 House bills was less than $25 million, but that was before he made the jump to Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee chair, overseeing by far the largest source of earmarks.

Womack included nearly $100 million in the “THUD” bill alone, including big-ticket highway projects like $59 million for a bypass to relieve congestion on Highway 412 running through Springdale, Ark. His largest project was in the Military Construction-VA bill, $70 million for a pilot training center at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Ark.

Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, another Appropriations panel member, jumps from less than $26 million in last year’s bills to about $118.4 million in the fiscal 2025 versions, good for fifth in the rankings. The biggest reason is $70 million in the Military Construction-VA bill for training classrooms and a dining facility at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base.

Another significant mover is Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., who isn’t on Appropriations and doesn’t have a tough race, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Gimenez goes from $33.3 million last year to $102.6 million this year, or No. 7. The key difference is $70 million for a new command and control facility at Naval Air Station Key West.

Former Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, who is perhaps more liberated in her final outing before retirement at the end of this Congress, is No. 8, with $87.8 million. That’s a big jump from $12.8 million last year, during her first and only budget cycle as chairwoman; she stepped down earlier this year after enactment of the final fiscal 2024 spending packages.

Granger’s biggest projects include $35 million for a taxi lane and aircraft apron — where planes are loaded and unloaded, refueled and so forth — at Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport and $17.4 million in NASA funding for the Fort Worth Center for Aerospace Innovation at Texas A&M University.

Some other notable jumps in the rankings include Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., at No. 10 with $73.9 million, up from $27.5 million at this time last year. Bergman, who was very briefly a speaker candidate after McCarthy’s removal, procured $62.7 million for an Army corps lock replacement project in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (pronounced Soo Saint Marie, according to Michigan sources).

Freshman Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., goes from $16 million to $56.9 million, good enough for No. 19 on the list and between two cardinals, Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and State-Foreign Operations Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. Of that figure, $5 million is Kiggans’ share of a joint project she requested with Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va.

Inside Elections rates Kiggans’ race Tilt Republican, or one rung safer than a Toss-up but still among the 14 most vulnerable Republicans on Gonzales’ list.

No. 3 overall is Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers with about $145 million. The Kentucky Republican and former full-committee chair ranked sixth last year, with nearly $86 million.

The fourth-ranking earmarker is Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, who secured his usual big haul of Energy-Water projects, including $113.3 million for the Sabine-Neches Waterway deepening project he says will make it easier for liquefied natural gas exporters to move their product. 

Weber’s a perennial top earmarker, despite not being on the committee or in a tough race. He was kicked out of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus earlier this year, though the reason wasn’t necessarily his earmarking, according to reports. Plenty of other Freedom Caucus members also request earmarks, though maybe not at Weber’s magnitude.

One lawmaker who didn’t budge much in the rankings despite getting a significant promotion is House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla. Cole, who formally succeeded Granger in April, would take home $107.7 million, mostly in the Transportation-HUD bill that he oversaw until taking the full committee gavel. He actually moves down to sixth in the rankings, from fourth last year, despite increasing his take from $106.1 million.

How the bills stack up

Among the individual spending bills, while Transportation-HUD remains the biggest contributor, that bill’s earmark total is down slightly from the fiscal 2024 House version, by about $270 million. Energy-Water is also down a little, by $45 million.

More than picking up the slack are the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which contains just over $1 billion in earmarks, about 68 percent above last year’s version; the Interior-Environment bill, also at a little over $1 billion, is up about 17 percent.

The Military Construction-VA measure’s $547 million is nearly double the comparable fiscal 2024 total for the House bill, and the Agriculture bill is up about 29 percent, to $626 million. Full lists of all the House appropriations earmarks and requests are posted here.