Congress

Earmarks won’t be back this year, at least in the House

‘Pork’ has been banned in the chamber since 2011

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chair of the House Appropriations Committee, won’t bring back earmarks this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats don’t plan to revive home-state earmarks during the upcoming appropriations process, though they expect to continue discussing the issue with their Republican colleagues.

“Unfortunately, there is currently not the necessary bipartisan, bicameral agreement to allow the Appropriations Committee to earmark,” Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey wrote in a letter sent to members of the panel Thursday and released publicly on Friday. “For that reason, I do not expect fiscal year 2020 House spending bills to include congressionally-directed spending.”

Earmarks have been banned in the House since former Speaker John A. Boehner received enough support to add the prohibition to the House GOP rules package in January 2011, when his party regained control of that chamber. Democrats have continued with the practice since taking the majority this year, even though they have not formally adopted a ban.

Ever since the ban was put in place, there has been a discussion about how lawmakers could bring back earmarks, without returning to the days where they received negative press attention for what many viewed as unnecessary or frivolous spending.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer has been one of the leading House voices on the issue, saying repeatedly during the past few years that he would support a return to earmarking.

“I am working to restore the Congress’ constitutional duty to exercise the ‘power of the purse’ through congressionally directed spending with reforms to ensure transparency and accountability,” the Maryland Democrat said in February. “I am discussing this issue with members on both sides of the aisle and both chambers.”

Several Republicans, including Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, have also voiced support for a return to the practice in some form.

In her letter, Lowey told members that bipartisan discussions about just how to bring back earmarks would continue during the 116th Congress.

“Over the coming months, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate must discuss the issue of earmarks in our respective caucuses and conferences to determine member preferences, solicit ideas to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and when applicable, change rules to permit members to request earmarks,” she wrote.

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