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Senate Catches Up to House on Earmarks Plan

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Senate Catches Up to House on Earmarks Plan

Tuesday, May 4, 2021
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As regular readers know, ANCOR has been following developments surrounding each party caucus’ policies on earmarks because of the potential for earmarks to enable our members to seek funding to reduce overhead while pursuing their missions. Learn more about planning to apply for earmarks for the next fiscal year here. You can see the list of the over 320 members of the House who submitted earmark requests within the April 30 Appropriations Committee deadline here; clicking on their name will give you the list of requests they submitted.

As a reminder, the Democratic and Republican parties each have two caucuses – one per party in each chamber – and each caucus decides whether it will allow its members to ask for earmarks. The caucuses do not need to coordinate (e.g., House Democrats can advance without Senate Democrats). To date, House Democrats and Republicans have voted to allow their members to request earmarks from the House Appropriations Committee. Senate Republicans voted not to do so but did not institute any penalties for members who proceed with earmarks requests anyways. This week, Politico Pro reports that Senate Democrats advanced with their own earmarks plan.

“Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy released his plan on Monday for restoring an overhauled version of earmarks, which senators can request on a bipartisan basis despite a symbolic ban upheld by GOP lawmakers.

“Congress holds the power of the purse,” Leahy (D-Vt.) said on the Senate floor Monday afternoon. “We should use it responsibly and transparently to address the needs of our communities.“

What’s new: Leahy’s proposal gels with a number of reforms already embraced by House Democrats and Republicans -- an effort to break with a past practice that became notorious for abuse.

For example, plans in both chambers would cap the overall amount of money spent on earmarks to 1 percent of discretionary spending, ban money from flowing to for-profit entities and require senators to post their requests online.

The Government Accountability Office will also audit earmark requests. And the plan upholds prior requirements that would prevent earmarks from directly benefiting senators or their immediate families.

Leahy’s plan doesn’t appear to cap the number of requests that senators can make, while the House proposal would impose a limit of 10 requests per lawmaker.

Who plans to participate: Senate Democrats are plowing forward with earmarks and a number of Republican appropriators have indicated that they plan to make funding requests, concerned that Democrats will get the most cash for community projects back home.”