Battle over parties’ share of earmarks erupts in House panel
Credit: Roll Call
A partisan rift over the distribution of earmarks in next year’s appropriations bills spilled out into the open Wednesday as House Democratic appropriators accused panel Republicans of sharing far more money with their own side of the aisle than is equitable.
In the 117th Congress when Democrats had the majority, the Appropriations Committee operated under an agreement where Democrats received roughly 63 percent of earmarked funds in the initial House spending bills, leaving 37 percent for the minority Republicans, ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. House Republicans have decided to keep that split between the majority and minority in this Congress.
The fiscal year 2023 House bills, drafted by the Democratic majority, featured about $5.1 billion in earmarks for Democrats across 3,198 projects, and just over $3 billion for Republicans across 1,165 projects, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis at the time. That works out to about a 62-38 split.
Requesting earmarks has increased in popularity among House Republicans this year, with nearly 70 percent of the conference submitting requests. However, many more Democrats still request earmarks as only one Democrat, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., does not file requests.
This year, Republicans requested $10.2 billion in earmarks across 1,864 projects, while Democrats sought $9.2 billion across 3,203 total requests.
During Wednesday’s full committee markup of the fiscal 2024 Agriculture spending bill, DeLauro and other Democrats railed against Republicans’ decision to keep a similar funding split.
“It is inequitable based on fairness and the direction we went for two years in this process,” DeLauro said. “A process that benefits not Democrats, a process that really affects everyone. Great projects, and great projects being denied because there isn’t equity in the split that has been made.”
A GOP committee aide said that DeLauro herself set the precedent on earmark allocations when she was leading the committee.
“We may not have agreed with their logic on the split but went along with it out of respect,” the aide said. “Republican members expect to be treated fairly when the shoe is on the other foot.”
The GOP aide pointed to both parties having submitted similar total dollars’ worth of requests for the fiscal 2024 bills as further justification for Republicans’ decision.
“There is a similar split between the majority and minority,” the aide said. “That is why we are doing the exact same earmark allocations.”
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who chairs the Financial Services Appropriations subcommittee, said Democrats should not be surprised that the earmark ratio flipped.
“It was understandable that when the majority flipped, there’d be a different ratio,” he said. “I don’t know why they are screaming so loud.”
DeLauro brought back earmarks in the last Congress after a decadelong absence with renewed transparency rules, limiting earmark funding to no more than 1 percent of the budget and requiring public disclosure of requests, among other measures.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, instituted additional measures, requiring a “federal nexus” for projects and barring earmarks from the Defense, Financial Services and Labor-HHS-Education measures. The Labor-HHS-Education measure included $2.7 billion in earmarks in the fiscal 2023 omnibus, second only to the Transportation-HUD bill, which had $5.6 billion.
DeLauro said Democrats and Republicans agreed when the process returned in 2021 that the two parties would deal with allocations based on the number of requests made, and that Democrats had submitted around two-thirds of overall requests that year.
As the two parties discussed the earmark split this year, DeLauro proposed to factor in the number of requests into the allocation of earmark dollars, a proposal Republicans rejected, she said.
DeLauro said she then offered a 56 percent for Republicans to 44 percent for Democrats split, another offer which was rejected. This split would allow Democrats to provide every member who requested an earmark with at least $1 million, she said.
Republicans received 70 percent of the earmarks in the Agriculture measure that the committee advanced Wednesday, for a total of $338 million. Democrats received 30 percent of those earmarks for a total of $145 million. Republicans received 199 earmarks in the bill, with 193 for Democrats and 3 bipartisan requests.
In the Military Construction-VA measure the committee advanced Tuesday, Republicans received $279 million for earmarks, while Democrats received just $15.3 million despite requesting over $400 million in projects, Military Construction-VA ranking member Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said.
“Democrats did not treat Republicans this way when we were in the majority,” she said. “In fact, we fully funded Republicans [earmarks] that were executable.”
The Homeland Security bill that the committee advanced out of subcommittee last month similarly favored Republicans, with $103.6 million provided for 42 projects versus $76 million provided for Democrats over 77 projects.
Overall, in the first three bills that included earmarks that have been rolled out, Republicans have received around three quarters of earmarked funds, with $720.7 million for Republicans compared to $236 million for Democrats.
However, even with Democrats receiving over 60 percent of earmark funding in House bills last year, Republicans held a significant edge in earmarks for these three fiscal 2023 bills, with a 64 to 36 percent edge.
Rep. David Trone, D-Md., for example, requested $5.4 million over four projects in the Agriculture measure, but received just $3 million for the projects that would fund emergency services, train first responders, replace a fire truck at a rural fire department and expand a community center in another small town.
Trone, who’s running to succeed retiring Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said those projects that were funded below his request would primarily aid Republicans in his district.
“This partisanship, that’s what ticks me off, and why I think we just are going down the wrong route,” Trone said during the markup. “We’ve got to figure out how to make life better for the folks that really need it, the folks who are really struggling.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., complained no Democrats received any earmarks of more than $1 million in the Agriculture bill, while over 100 projects requested by Republicans received more than $1 million.
“This is ridiculous, and your elected representatives’ party affiliation just should not be a factor in who gets funded and who does not, to an extent,” he said.
Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., said that the breakdown by project was decided by the members’ party. He said the $145 million Democrats received this year is a major increase over the $97 million Democrats received in earmarks in the Agriculture bill last year.
“Even by common core math, that’s $48 million more in projects available,” he said. “The decision internally, in full transparency, is [Republicans] decided we would fund bigger projects.”
Republicans boosted their Agriculture bill haul nearly fourfold over the fiscal 2023 bill, where they initially included $94 million for GOP districts.