House Democratic leaders are moving ahead with their sales pitch for the return of earmarks — which an aide dubbed “community project funding.”
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., is set to meet Tuesday with a group of freshman House Democrats and others considered vulnerable in the 2020 elections to talk about a possible return of local projects in the spending bills for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The meeting is a first step of sorts in determining whether House Democrats opt to bring back the somewhat-taboo line items, which were banned by then-majority Republicans in 2011 and haven’t yet returned under Democratic control. The more formal name for the special projects in recent years has been “congressionally directed spending,” but “community project funding” implies a more personal connection to lawmakers’ districts.
“There is considerable interest in allowing members of Congress to direct funding for important projects in their communities,” a Democratic aide, who asked not to be named in order to speak candidly, said in a statement Friday.
Should a large number of House Democrats, particularly those in swing districts, object to the idea it’s unlikely that the Appropriations Committee would proceed with soliciting project requests for the fiscal 2021 spending bills. And even if Democrats are broadly supportive, having limited earmarks in the House could create headaches for conferencing the bills with the GOP-controlled Senate, where the practice is still banned.
Key voices in Tuesday’s meeting will come from “frontline” Democrats, the group of about 42 lawmakers that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believes are at risk losing their seats during the November elections.
The list includes a number of freshmen who flipped districts President Donald Trump won in 2016, like Iowa Democrats Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, and California freshman who won in Orange County districts that Republicans had dominated for decades, including Gil Cisneros, Katie Porter, Harley Rouda and Mike Levin. Jason Crow, a freshman from Colorado who’s now serving as one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s seven impeachment managers, is on the list, as are veteran lawmakers from Trump districts such as Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., and Matt Cartwright, D-Pa. — himself an Appropriations Committee member and prospective Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee chairman.
It wasn’t clear which members would be attending Tuesday’s meeting on the subject.
This is not the first time the Appropriations Committee has debated whether to bring back earmarks in some form. Republicans and Democrats have batted around the idea ever since then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, led the movement to oust them in 2011. Should earmarks return, House Democrats expect they would be far more transparent and limited than the type of earmarks that existed before the ban went into effect under GOP Conference rules.
Lowey and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., each entertained the idea of bringing back earmarks in scaled-back form last year. But Senate Republicans have thus far shown no inclination to bringing back the special home-state projects, voting 28-12 within their conference last year to permanently ban them.