Earmarks in House bills favor Democrats, but GOP not shy either

Eight of the top 10 earmarkers by dollar amount are Republicans, but the lion’s share of earmarked total is slated for Democratic districts

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio is No. 1 among earmarkers with $43.8 million. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio is No. 1 among earmarkers with $43.8 million. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 4, 2021 at 5:44am

House appropriators set aside $3.7 billion for home-state projects in fiscal 2022 spending bills, with about $2.3 billion, or 62 percent, of the earmarked funds flowing to Democratic districts, a CQ Roll Call analysis found.

Republicans punched slightly above their weight in the final tally, considering the GOP makes up about one-third of members requesting projects in the 10 appropriations bills eligible for earmarks.

Most of the top earmarkers by dollar amount are Republicans — despite the fact that not a single GOP member voted for any of the seven bills with earmarks that passed the House as a combined package last week. Those bills contained the lion’s share of earmarks allotted by House appropriators, $3.5 billion, with roughly the same proportional split between the parties as the overall total.

The figures come from House Appropriations Committee reports, adjusted to remove Energy-Water funding that overlaps with requests in President Joe Biden’s budget request. Where lawmakers requested money for the same Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Reclamation project, CQ Roll Call credited House members only for securing amounts above the White House request.

Total earmarked funds equal less than 0.25 percent of the more than $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending for federal agencies next year, coming in well shy of House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro’s mandated cap of 1 percent. That should give DeLauro plenty of room to maneuver in any eventual conference with the Senate, which is just starting to mark up its spending bills this week.

Of the top 25 highest-grossing House members across all the earmarked bills, 18 are Republicans — and GOP lawmakers make up eight of the top 10.  

They include three members of the GOP leadership: Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, in the No. 23 slot, with about $22.2 million in “community project funding”; Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York, in seventh place with $34.7 million; and Conference Vice Chairman Mike Johnson, another Louisianan, at No. 4 overall with $36 million.

The list also includes a Democrat-turned-Republican, New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew, with $29.9 million worth of projects for his constituents, eighth-most in the House.

Then there are three top GOP appropriators: Defense Subcommittee ranking member Ken Calvert of California, Energy-Water ranking member Mike Simpson of Idaho and Labor-HHS-Education ranking member Tom Cole of Oklahoma in 13th, 19th and 25th place, respectively.

DeFazio takes home gold, Clyburn the silver 

But the gold- and silver-medal winners in this odd, wonky form of Olympic competition go to two Democrats: Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.

DeFazio, whose Senate counterparts declined to include any earmarks in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that chamber is set to take up, is No. 1 in the House with $43.8 million.

After having spent $5.9 million to keep his 4th District seat last year by a little more than 5 points, DeFazio is considered one of his party’s most endangered members in 2022. His district includes college towns such as Eugene and large swaths of conservative territory in southwestern Oregon. Biden won the district by 4 points in 2020, after Donald Trump lost there by 0.1 point four years earlier.

The bulk of DeFazio’s earmarks, $32.7 million, are in the Energy-Water bill for the Army Corps to perform major maintenance at the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, a major cargo thoroughfare and marina.

DeFazio wrote in his pitch for the project that the port’s North Jetty has receded more than 750 feet since construction and that a “lack of funding for this project not only puts mariners in harm’s way, it impedes the U.S. Coast Guard’s ability to carry out search and rescue missions.” Fixing the jetty will protect investments in the port’s rail line, which supports industries that employ nearly 1,000 rural Oregonians “with family wage jobs,” DeFazio wrote. 

Clyburn came in second with $41.4 million sprinkled throughout the bills for his Columbia, S.C., district. The onetime Appropriations Committee member, who took a leave of absence starting in 2007, was an early and vocal advocate of restoring earmarks.

“I represent many rural communities, each with its own challenges and needs,” Clyburn testified to the House Rules Committee last October. “These communities have limited resources and are unable to hire grant writers and lobbyists. What these communities have is a congressman.”

Besides DeFazio, only one other member of the Democrats’ Frontline program to protect vulnerable incumbents — California’s Mike Levin, who represents parts of Orange County and San Diego — made the top 25. He reeled in $22.4 million, mainly in the Energy-Water and Transportation-HUD bills.

Gonzales top GOP earmarker

The next three top earners are all Republicans, with Texas’ Tony Gonzales placing third overall with just under $39 million. The freshman is on House Democrats’ target list after winning the open seat representing outer San Antonio and more than 700 miles along the Mexican border left by retired Rep. Will Hurd, a famously independent Republican who never shied away from criticizing Trump.

Gonzales, who won a rare appointment to the powerful Appropriations Committee in his first term, won by 4 points in November in a district that Trump carried narrowly last year. He put out press releases cheering the earmarks he secured for the region, although none of the releases notes that he voted against the underlying bills.

Throughout the statements, Gonzales said he was “proud,” “excited” and “thrilled” to secure funding for all 10 of his requests within six of the bills. He also put out releases citing opposition to spending levels for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, as well as citing opposition to Democrats removing long-standing provisions that have barred federal funding for abortion, with limited exceptions.

Some of the top GOP earmarkers were particularly fond of military construction projects. Of Gonzales’ projects, $32 million would go toward a vehicle maintenance shop and child development center at Joint Base San Antonio. Johnson’s entire $36 million is for a new entrance road and gate at Barksdale Air Force Base. And Stefanik’s largest earmark, $27 million, would go toward providing the Army’s Fort Drum with a “safe, secure water supply,” according to a letter she wrote to appropriators.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn’t request earmarks. Nor did Kay Granger, R-Texas, the top Republican on Appropriations.

Other top Democratic leaders were further down the list. Speaker Nancy Pelosi garnered $14.1 million for her San Francisco constituents; DeLauro, representing New Haven, Conn., and its environs, was right behind Pelosi at $14 million; and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer secured nearly $10.8 million for his southern Maryland district.

The House member placing last of the 330 members who requested home-state funding is Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, with $250,000 for advanced manufacturing equipment and training at Kent State University at Tuscarawas.

Earmarks or not, Republicans unilaterally opposed the bills. They said while the process was fair and transparent, they can’t support legislation they believe provides too much funding for domestic and foreign aid programs and not enough for defense. Republicans also oppose several policy changes that Democrats made, including removing long-standing provisions that barred federal funding for abortion access.

“I wish the circumstances were different and I could support this important piece of legislation that funds critical programs,” Granger said during floor debate last week. “Unfortunately, after months of committee hearings and markups, this year’s bills have too many fatal flaws.”

With Senate Republicans sharing Granger’s view, earmark recipients in the House bills will likely have to wait until late in the year, or beyond, to know their fate since none of the bills can advance in the evenly divided Senate without an overall deal on spending allocations.