House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) confirmed late on Feb. 26 that earmarks—which she termed “Community Project Funding”—are again part of the congressional spending scene.
“Members want Congress to help their communities, particularly now as the pandemic exposed so many inequalities and needs,” DeLauro said in a statement announcing the return. “Community Project Funding [CPF] will allow Members to put their deep, first-hand understanding of the needs of their communities to work to help the people we represent.”
Earmarks heretofore were obscure spending orders inserted, often anonymously, into major pieces of legislation that frequently benefitted a congressman’s family members, favored special interests, or campaign donors.
Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the main opponent of earmarks, described them as “the gateway to federal spending addiction” because congressional leaders in both parties used them to gain votes for legislation that an individual senator or representative would otherwise oppose.
Due to costly initiatives like the “Bridge to Nowhere” project in Alaska and the efforts of groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste, earmarks generated so much negative publicity and pressure for reforms during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that both houses of Congress adopted rules initially to limit and then finally in 2011 to ban the spending tactic.
But critics contend that earmarks were never really terminated and that Congress just made it harder to identify them in legislation. And members in both parties in recent years have steadily grown bolder in pushing for an official return.
The new ground rules for CPF reflect a recognition of the poor public image of earmarks as seen in DeLauro’s assertion that “our bipartisan reforms will produce a small number of projects with strong community support, a transparent process where no member’s family can benefit and where projects are audited to ensure money was spent as planned.”
It wasn’t clear from DeLauro’s description of the new CPF process how the spending measures will be subject to the auditing that all federal expenditures are at least potentially bound by through the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the inspectors general system.
DeLauro said the new procedures are intended to ensure that all CPF is “dedicated to genuine need and not subject to abuse.” Among the procedures DeLauro described are the following:
- All Requests Online: Members are required to post every CPF request online simultaneously with their submission to the committee. The website must be searchable. The House Appropriations Committee will establish an online “one-stop” link to all House members’ project requests.
- Early Public Disclosure: To facilitate public scrutiny of CPF, the committee will release a list of projects funded the same day as the subcommittee markup, or 24 hours before full committee consideration if there was no subcommittee markup.
- No Financial Interest: Members must certify to the committee that they, their spouse, and their immediate family have no financial interest in the projects they request. This is an expansion beyond the underlying requirements in House Rules in order to cover immediate families of Members.
- Ban on For-Profit Recipients: There is a ban on directing CPF to for-profit grantees. Members may request funding for state or local governmental grantees and for eligible non-profits.
- Cap on Overall Funding: The committee will limit all CPF in one budget to no more than 1 percent of discretionary spending, a recommendation of the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.
- Member Requests Capped: The committee will accept a maximum of 10 CPF requests from each member, though only a handful may actually be funded.
Notably absent from the new process is an explicit ban on CPFs that benefit campaign donors or favored special interests such as environmental activists, oil and gas operators, and defense industry contractors.
The procedures include a requirement that no vote be taken by the committee or one of its subcommittees until a CPF request has been publicly available at least 48 hours. Congress routinely waives similar rules it currently has that are intended to give every member at least three days to read proposed bills before voting on them.
The procedures also make explicit the right of an individual member to lodge a point of order against a new CPF in a bill that wasn’t included in it during committee consideration.
DeLauro said additional rules governing the CPF procedure will be announced in the near future. “In the coming weeks, the House Appropriations Committee will provide additional information regarding which accounts and programs will be eligible for Community Project Funding requests and the criteria necessary for consideration in those areas. In addition, the committee will provide support to members and their staffs so they can submit strong requests that meet urgent needs in their communities,” she said.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the ranking minority member of the appropriations panel, didn’t issue a statement Feb. 26, but she has been a strong supporter of earmarks in the past.
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc