July 11, 2014

Earmark Reform Remains Divisive

House Republican leaders continued wading through a thicket of intraparty squabbles Wednesday in a bid to gather support for a lobbying and ethics reform package that is scheduled to hit the floor today.

At press time, the Rules Committee was still combing through proposed amendments to the lobbying bill. On a parallel track, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) were in the midst of intense negotiations with Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) over the scope of the measure’s earmark reform provisions.

Members and aides close to those negotiations said Wednesday evening that a deal between the leadership and appropriators was possible but that it was more likely that talks would continue today.

While the reform package includes sections dealing with 527 reform, privately funded travel and lobbying disclosure, the issue of earmarks stopped the entire measure in its tracks Tuesday when Lewis and his fellow appropriators demanded that earmark reforms also apply to narrow provisions in authorizing and tax bills.

“If this is good for the Appropriations Committee, it’s good for everyone else,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), an appropriator. “There’s also a concern that we’ve put earmark reform in with lobbying and ethics reform as though earmarking is unethical. It’s not.”

Lewis threatened to vote against the rule on the lobbying bill, and he had the backing of the majority of Republican appropriators, several Members said. But if the leadership consents to Lewis’ demands and expands the scope of the bills, other chairmen of affected committees could revolt.

Boehner began discussions with other committee chairmen Wednesday on the idea of broadening earmark reform, but it was not clear how they would react if they were forced to justify individual projects and publicly disclose their sponsors the way appropriators will be asked to do.

Asked what he thought of Lewis’ earmark proposal, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) said, “I’m against the whole bill.”

Rep Tom Petri (R-Wis.), a senior member of the Transportation panel, pointed out that the sponsors of transportation earmarks are usually easy to determine because the location of projects is no secret and because Members usually brag publicly about the earmarks they’ve secured.

“On first blush, it doesn’t require us to do anything differently,” Petri said, adding that there has been no real discussion of Lewis’ proposal among his panel’s members.

Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) declined to comment on whether such reforms should apply to his tax bills.

Beyond his fellow chairmen, Lewis’ stand has split the Republican Conference along several fault lines.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a longtime reform supporter, said he believed that Lewis was deliberately trying to sink any kind of earmark legislation with a “poison pill.”

“The appropriators know that if they broaden it out they get a lot more people opposed to it,” Flake said.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) made similar points Wednesday, suggesting that getting earmark reform now on appropriations bills would be better than nothing.

But not everyone in the RSC agrees. At the conservative group’s Wednesday meeting there was a split between Members who agreed with Pence and those who thought the RSC should endorse the idea of expanding the scope of earmark reform.

comments powered by Disqus