‘Bad Politics’: The Swamp’s Earmark Tab Is Already About $21 Billion

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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The first round of earmarks requested by members of the House of Representatives could cost taxpayers as much as $21 billion.

House Democrats have sought $14 billion in funding for district projects, while House Republicans have requested $7 billion, The Washington Post reported Friday. Out of 435 members, 94 House Republicans and only one House Democrat did 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.

Both parties in the House agreed in March to reinstate earmarks, and Democrats in the Senate followed suit. Republicans in the Senate maintain a ban on the practice, but it is not enforced. (RELATED: 15 Republican Senators Oppose Return Of Earmarks)

“If you don’t want to earmark, don’t ask for one,” Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said.

Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse slammed his party leadership’s approach to the practice.

“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,” he told the Daily Caller.

Republican Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves requested the most money of any lawmaker. He is hoping to secure more than $1 billion for his district, the majority of which will go to highway construction.

California Rep. Katie Porter, the only Democrat not to request earmarks for her district, wrote in a March Wall Street Journal op-ed that earmarks have contributed to “a history of corruption and backroom deals that waste tax dollars.”

In an effort to break with that history, congressional leaders are rebranding earmarks as “community-funded project requests.”

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told The Washington Post that she believes new transparency requirements will make sure that members are more responsible with their requests.

“There is going to be a lot of people paying attention to whether this just becomes a free-for-all, like it arguably was in the past,” she said.

Nevertheless, some representatives have requested earmarks for projects that may face further scrutiny.

Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez requested $3.4 million in earmarks for two New York City hospitals that perform abortions. One of the earmarks would create a unit of “outreach workers to respond to shootings.” Similar programs have long been desired by activists associated with the “Defund the Police: movement.

Democratic Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson requested $209,000 for an affordable housing and studio complex for professional artists living in and around Decatur, Georgia.

“The Creative Village Project includes the adaptive reuse of four, former group homes to provide affordable housing and studio space for local artists,” according to Johnson’s proposal.

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

Democratic Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal is also requesting money for arts programming. She asked for $210,000 for Path with Art, an organization that provides art classes to Seattle’s homeless population as a way of “bring[ing] dignity, awareness, and healing.”

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