The Senate has officially kicked off its process for inserting “congressionally directed spending” into appropriations bills for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, with almost all Democrats but only 15 Republicans in that chamber participating thus far.
The first batch of publicly disclosed earmark requests went live Friday, under Senate Appropriations Committee guidelines that members post their requests within 15 days of submitting them.
The first panel deadline for requests was June 16 for the Energy-Water subcommittee, responsible for the highly popular Army Corps of Engineers accounts, among others, though requests have also trickled in for the Agriculture subcommittee, which had a June 17 deadline.
Senate Republicans have been split on the subject of earmarks since it became apparent Democrats in both chambers intended to restore the practice this year after a decadelong absence, due to various “pay to play” scandals in the mid-2000s and the appearance of wasteful spending.
Of the 15 Republicans who’ve submitted requests so far, nine are members of the Appropriations Committee, led by ranking member Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who’s retiring after this Congress.
Six Republicans on the spending panel haven’t asked for local projects yet, including Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and a onetime prolific earmarker, and Florida’s Marco Rubio, who faces a potentially tough swing-state reelection fight next year.
One noteworthy Republican who’s asked for earmarks is South Dakota’s John Thune, the No. 2 GOP senator and McConnell’s top vote counter. Thune’s sole request at this point is $21.9 million for a Bureau of Reclamation project in Tea, S.D., to build additional water delivery lines and expand the number of communities served in his home state as well as neighboring Iowa and Minnesota.
On the Democratic side, just two senators have yet to submit requests: Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents on her side of the aisle, and Montana’s Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which isn’t accepting earmark requests this year.
One Appropriations panel Democrat whom party leaders need to be especially attentive to is West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, whose independent streak in the 50-50 chamber means much of President Joe Biden’s agenda hinges on him.
Manchin has submitted requests so far for both the Agriculture and Energy-Water bills; the largest is nearly $12.9 million for stormwater system improvements in the town of Rainelle, W.Va.
Other sizable Manchin requests include $7 million for a community development center at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, and $4 million for an activity center in Baker, W.Va., including “a pool, racquetball courts, indoor basketball court, tennis court, public library, fitness center, table tennis with an attached shell building with inside walking/jogging track.”
The number of GOP senators requesting earmarks is of particular interest after the party opted to leave its “permanent ban” on earmarks in its rules earlier this year during a closed-door meeting.
Top Republicans, including Shelby and Missouri’s Roy Blunt, the ranking member on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations, were adamant the outcome of the meeting didn’t really matter because the rule wasn’t binding on members.
Republicans’ earmark requests are also important because they will determine how much finding GOP senators ultimately get for their states.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., originally said in March that Republicans would receive half of the earmarked funds in the fiscal 2022 spending bills.
He later altered that in May when spokesman Jay Tilton said it was Leahy’s “intention” to split the projects 50-50 unless “Senate Republicans did not participate in requesting earmarks in a significant way.”
Democrats declined to define exactly what would qualify as “significant.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s earmarks process is slightly different than the one underway in the House spending panel.
House members were capped at requesting 10 projects total but senators face no such limit on how much funding they can request throughout the nine spending bills that are available to earmark for the first time in a decade.
The two chambers do share several overlapping rules including that total earmarks approved will be capped at 1 percent of discretionary spending and that no for-profit entities can receive congressionally directed funds.
Senators also have to certify that neither they nor their immediate family has any financial interest in the project.
Leahy hasn’t announced a markup schedule yet, but Tilton said earlier this week that the panel may start considering its versions of the fiscal 2022 spending bills in late July or early August before the chamber adjourns for its summer recess.