Plenty of GOP earmarks in spending bill its members will oppose

Lawmakers who attached earmarks to the Interior-Environment spending bill are unlikely to vote for the legislation

Rodgers has $15.7 million worth of earmarks in the Interior-Environment spending bill that she has not committed to supporting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rodgers has $15.7 million worth of earmarks in the Interior-Environment spending bill that she has not committed to supporting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 1, 2021 at 7:00am

The Interior-Environment appropriations bill being marked up by the full House Appropriations Committee on Thursday comes with a bipartisan bevy of more than 300 earmarks totaling $444.6 million.

But some of the Republican lawmakers who attached earmarks for their constituencies to the bill are nevertheless unlikely to vote for the legislation.

Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, the top Republican on the Interior-Environment subcommittee, said earlier this week that he can’t support the bill in its current form, criticizing several provisions as well as its overall spending level.

He has five earmarks that come to $9.4 million, a total that ranks sixth among more than 150 lawmakers with Interior-Environment earmarks.

Joyce spokeswoman Katherine Sears said in a statement that the congressman takes seriously Congress’ responsibility to scrutinize federal spending.

“Who better to direct funding to local communities than the member of Congress they chose to represent them as opposed to a random government bureaucrat?” Sears said. “He was proud to submit Community Project Funding Requests to help Northeast Ohio upgrade its sewage systems and improve the quality of its drinking water. However, these requests, which are the equivalent of .02% of the bill’s overall spending level, do not translate to support for $43.4 billion in new federal spending.”

Earmarks were shunned for years after various scandals and criticism from conservatives that they contribute to increased government spending. They have returned this appropriations cycle, however, coupled with renewed efforts to make them transparent and free of conflicts of interest.

Earmarks were once seen as a way of building bipartisan support for spending bills, but it’s clear that having an earmark in a bill doesn’t necessarily mean voting for it.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has the biggest haul of Interior-Environment earmarks with five. Two of those relate to drinking water projects and three to sewer and wastewater projects.

One would direct $3.5 million to the town of Malden in her district, which was devastated by wildfire last year and needs a new sewer system for the entire community, according to Rodgers’ description of the project. She had requested $6 million for it.

Rodgers is the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee. When that panel recently marked up a drinking water infrastructure bill, Rodgers criticized its large funding increases and offered an amendment to keep drinking water programs at their current authorized level.

She said those authorization levels still are above appropriated amounts. Her amendment was defeated.

Rodgers has not said whether she plans to support the Interior-Environment spending bill. Rodgers spokesman Kyle VonEnde said in an email: "Pleased to see the Appropriations Committee recognize the importance of these community priorities to Eastern Washington, especially for towns like Malden that are trying to put their lives back together with limited resources.”

Democrats

In second place for total earmarked funding in the Interior-Environment measure is Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., who is chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Maloney’s five earmarks total $13.9 million.

They include $3.5 million for a City of Middletown Water System Improvements Project and $3.5 million to the County of Putnam for an ecological restoration project.

In a statement, Maloney said he has heard from local officials from both sides of the aisle about the needs of communities in his district and that he’s proud of the projects included.

“This new, improved process enables Congress to do what we were elected to do and utilize our knowledge and experience to thoughtfully direct federal funds to the projects and communities who need it most,” Maloney said. “Right now, water issues are at the top of that list.”

The chair of the subcommittee, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has one $1.2 million earmark to improve water infrastructure in the town of Vinalhaven.

While many of the earmarked projects deal with water infrastructure, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., has the largest single earmark at $4.1 million, which would go to the Rincon Valley Creek Protection project. That involves adding 552 acres to Saguaro National Park. The parcels fall within the park boundary expansion approved by Congress last year, according to Kirkpatrick’s description of the project.

A number of the earmarks were sought by members representing swing districts.

Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., has a $500,000 earmark in the bill for the Yorba Linda Water District to build at least one new “heli-hydrant,” a new system that allows helicopters fighting wildfires to quickly fill their water tanks. That allows them to dump more water on a fire faster, compared to filling their tanks from nearby lakes.

The district’s existing hydrant was used to battle last year’s Blue Ridge fire that scorched thousands of acres and damaged a number of homes.

“It turned out to be a game changer in the Blue Ridge fire,” said water district spokeswoman Alison Martin. “It was used to put out a lot of fires in the Chino Hills State Park.”

She said a second hydrant under construction is expected to be operational at the end of July. The earmarked funds would be used for a third one and potentially a fourth if there is money left over.

Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.