What to Know in Washington: Fiscal Hawks Push Earmark Limits

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House Republicans plan to impose stricter limits on earmarks in government funding bills, a move that will likely complicate negotiations with senators on an eventual spending package.

Conservatives have criticized certain earmarks—such as last year’s funds for a Michelle Obama hiking trail in Georgia or LGBT San Diego student support—as frivolous glamour projects. They’ve said they’ll block similar proposals from this year’s spending bills, even as the vast majority of House Republicans chose to allow the earmarking process to continue.

The anticipated changes could widen discrepancies between House and Senate rules, an obstacle for the earmarking system — revived after a decade-long ban on the practice — in its first year operating in a divided Congress. The modifications also could create another challenge to reaching a bicameral funding deal later this year, already complicated as the GOP House majority looks to roll back spending.

House Republicans have agreed to limit earmarks to projects with a clear “federal nexus,” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) said in an interview. Appropriators will release guidance in the next few weeks, which will spell out which funding programs won’t be eligible for earmarks, a House Republican aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the plans are announced.

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) at a news conference in 2021.

Michael Thorning, director of governance at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the criticisms of individual earmarks reflects a push by The Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups to delegitimize a process that has garnered support from Republicans. The Bipartisan Policy Center has supported the revival of earmarks and has made recommendations for transparency measures and other rules.

“It’s naked partisanship from people hoping to gin up opposition to directed spending,” Thorning said in a phone interview. “I fear that in entertaining it, that if you give an inch, they will take a mile.” Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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