Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) introduced an amendment to House Democrats’ “INVEST in America Surface Transportation and Infrastructure Act” that would strip out $5.6 billion worth of earmarks sought by members of both political parties.
“Taxpayers across the country are getting their first look at what Washington is like in the new earmark era. It’s not a pretty sight. This transportation spending bill includes 1,474 examples of the Washington Swamp saying they know best when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars,” Budd said in a statement announcing his amendment.
“If an earmarked project is truly worthy of taxpayer funding, then it should be proposed individually on the House floor or as a competitive grant. Every taxpayer dollar is sacred and should be treated that way. If this Congress really believed that, then we should remove this pork barrel spending,” said Budd, who is an announced candidate to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
Earlier this year, House Democratic leaders announced they would end a decade in which the lower chamber had sworn off earmarks—spending provisions buried in much larger unrelated bills to send tax dollars to projects in a member’s district that could benefit family members, campaign contributors, or former staffers.
The INVEST act is expected to reach the House floor for a vote Wednesday, but whether members will also have to vote on Budd’s amendment will be decided Tuesday evening by the House Rules Committee.
Earmarks became a focus of national controversy when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) described them in 2005 as “the gateway drug to Federal Spending Addiction.”
Coburn, whose Senate nickname was “Senator No” because he was such a renowned opponent of waste, fraud, and corruption in federal spending, exposed the $223 million earmark known as the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which would connect Alaska’s Ketchikan, a town of 8,900 residents, with the island of Gravina. The island, which has an airport, had 50 residents at the time.
House Republicans, led by the Tea Party movement in 2010, retook the majority in the lower chamber and ended earmarks in 2011. Senate Republicans did so after retaking the majority in the upper chamber in 2014.
But despite earmarks’ unpopularity with voters, unofficial pressure has grown in both parties since then and earlier this year Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced the return of earmarks.
While the new earmarks are now officially known as “Member-Designated Projects” and must be publicly identified with a sponsoring representative, each individual spending provision is still not voted on separately but is contained in much broader legislative proposals like the INVEST bill.
The complete list of approved earmarks contained in the INVEST act can be downloaded here.
A total of 319 members submitted earmark requests, including 214 Democrats seeking 1,778 and 105 Republicans asking for 605 for a total of 2,383 requests.
The 1,474 requests that were approved included 1,067 valued at $3.97 billion for Democrats and 403 worth $1.7 billion for Republicans. Three approved projects had bipartisan sponsorship, according to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“I’m proud to announce the Member-Designated Projects that were awarded funding today, and I thank Ranking Member Sam Graves [R-Mo.] for working with me and leading efforts on the Republican side of the aisle,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in a June 7 statement.
“With our reforms to the process to ensure transparency and local support, it certainly was not an easy nor quick task for our committee to vet thousands of submissions. But it was absolutely worth it to give elected representatives the chance to directly advocate on behalf of their districts in our surface transportation bill,” DeFazio continued.
“Together, we can help give viable projects the funding they need to get across the finish line, one of many steps we can take to get moving on the backlog of badly-needed infrastructure projects located in every congressional district across the country,” he said.
The INVEST act proposal appropriates $343 billion on roads, bridges and highway safety, including $4 billion to build a network of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, according to a fact sheet prepared by the committee’s Democratic staff.
The proposal also includes $109 billion for mass transit systems, including “record investments in transit to increase routes, reduce the transit maintenance backlog, and provide more frequent service, resulting in better options for riders, improved environmental outcomes, and increased access to jobs and essential destinations.”
The proposal further includes $95 billion for passenger and rail transport systems, including a tripling of Amtrak’s budget to $32 billion, “allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.”
Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org