The Swamp Strikes Back — Many Republicans Will Earmark Again

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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At least six Senate Republicans have committed to requesting earmarks during the current congressional session, despite an ostensible conference ban on the practice.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby confirmed to Politico on Tuesday that they would request earmarks. Ten other Republican senators said that they were undecided on the practice, five refused to comment, and 29 confirmed that they would not request earmarks.

Earmarks are line items inserted into bills that direct money towards a specific recipient. By directing spending toward a specific Congress member’s district, they can be used to gain a reluctant member’s support for a piece of legislation.

Citing an extensive record of wasteful spending, Congressional Republicans first banned earmarks in 2011. That ban was initially temporary and had to be renewed every two years. At the urging of Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, they made the ban permanent in 2019. “Earmarks are a crummy way to govern and they have no business in Congress. Backroom deals, kickbacks, and earmarks feed a culture of constant incumbency and that’s poisonous to healthy self-government,” Sasse said at the time.

Sasse was one of 15 Republican senators to sign a letter opposing the reintroduction of earmarks. He told the Daily Caller, “This isn’t complicated: Republicans voted for our rules, the rules ban earmarks, and we ought to keep the rules. Ignoring the rules and running back to earmarks would be a disservice to taxpayers and, frankly, bad politics. Earmarks are under water among Republicans, Independents, and Democrats.”

Democrats voted to reinstitute earmarks in the House and the Senate, while Republicans did so in the House only. However, the Republican Senate ban on earmarks is not enforceable.

“If you don’t want to earmark, don’t ask for one,” Shelby said in April.

Republican Texas Rep. Chip Roy, another critic of earmarks, argues that they will be used to grease the wheels on unpopular legislation. “These will be used as currency for votes as Democrat leadership buys off moderates who do not support their party’s radical policy agenda,” Roy told the Daily Caller News Foundation in February.

Two of the most prominent examples of wasteful earmark spending were supported by two Republican senators who are now considering earmarks. Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” intended to connect Gravina Island and Ketchikan, was canceled in 2015 after costing taxpayers $452 million in earmarks. The bridge was unnecessary, as a ferry connects the two towns. But Alaskan officials, including Murkowski and her father Frank, then the governor, supported the proposal. The Murkowski family also owned land on Gravina Island that likely would have appreciated in value had the bridge been built.

Murkowski did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.

Burr, who told Politico that he is undecided on requesting earmarks, was instrumental in getting funding for the Sparta Teapot Museum of Craft and Design in Sparta, North Carolina. Before it closed in 2010, the museum received $500,000 in earmarks. (RELATED: Pork Spending, Earmarks ‘Alive And Well’ In Washington)

In 2006, Burr said that he expected the museum to “bring economic development and tourism dollars to a community with a high number of job losses.”

Burr did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.

Grassley, who is also undecided on earmarks, added $50 million to a 2003 energy bill to build the “Coralville Rain Forest,” an artificial rain forest spearheaded by a former special assistant to Grassley. The rain forest has not yet been built.

Grassley did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.