Capitol Correspondence - 03.23.21

Two Unfolding Developments in the Political Climate: The Return of Earmarks & Growing Senate GOP Frustration

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To inform our members’ advocacy and keep them abreast of the broader political climate, we flag two developments that could loom large over future policy discussions.

The revival of Congressional earmarks: This is relevant to ANCOR members because in the past, earmarks have been directed to specific disability agencies to assist with their missions. As explained by the Congressional Research Service, “House and Senate rules have defined an earmark as any congressionally directed spending, tax benefit, or tariff benefit that would benefit an entity or a specific state, locality, or congressional district.” After several prominent scandals brought the practice into disrepute, both political parties opted to ban the practice in the early 2000s. More recently, however, the banning of earmarks has been cited as one potential cause of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill; by taking away this bargaining chip, members of Congress have fewer opportunities to negotiate with one another over legislation.

Now, Politico is reporting that congressional earmarks may be seeing a revival: “House Republicans agreed on Wednesday to lift their decade-long ban on earmarks — a major reversal that will enable the GOP to take advantage of a once-controversial spending practice soon to be revived by Democrats. […]

Democrats have already announced similar reforms in their plan to bring back earmarks. […]

Earmark proponents have argued that allowing lawmakers to ensure money for specific projects would restore power to the legislative branch and shift it away from the Biden administration. They also believe a return to earmarks will help make the institution more functional: The practice can be a useful tool for congressional leaders who are trying to corral votes for bills.”

Finally, Politico Pro reports that “the Senate’s ranking Republican appropriator thinks the House GOP vote to bring back earmarks creates the right ‘dynamic’ to do the same in the upper chamber.”


Senate Republicans signal plans to fight back against Democratic majority: As reported by Politico Pro, “After getting steamrolled by Democrats on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid plan, Republicans are planning to fight back. And it could mean an autumn of stalemates over raising the debt ceiling, spending cuts and unemployment benefits.

Despite overseeing trillions of dollars of red ink during Donald Trump’s presidency, the GOP is rediscovering its past embrace of fiscal discipline. And the party can exert itself on a series of politically painful votes where Democrats will need cooperation in the months ahead.

Senate Democrats’ 50-member majority will need at least 10 GOP votes to fund the government, prevent major Medicare cuts and perhaps most importantly, raise the debt ceiling this year — and Republicans say they don’t intend to make things easy. [ANCOR note: one major challenge for advocates surrounding debt ceiling negotiations is that these discussions take up a lot of Congressional bandwidth, making it difficult to obtain momentum on non-budget issues during that time.]

Unless Democrats somehow manage to scrap the filibuster, the 50-vote Senate Republican minority will find itself wielding impressive leverage against a president who pushed forward on a party-line Covid stimulus and aggravated many in the GOP. […]

The GOP is also recoiling at Biden’s reported plan to pursue the first major hike of federal taxes in 30 years to help fund his economic revitalization — a White House effort that will likely pour gasoline on the Republican austerity reboot. That spells trouble for a bipartisan infrastructure and jobs package that Democrats and the White House are preparing in the coming months. […]

Biden’s party can use the maneuver known as budget reconciliation once more this year to shield a major measure from the filibuster, but that decision comes with limits. […]

Government funding is set to run out at the end of September, about three weeks after the expiration of the latest tranche of boosted federal unemployment benefits approved during Covid. Senate Democrats will need some Republican buy-in on a slate of annual appropriations bills to avoid a shutdown. The debt ceiling could hit right around the same time, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.