WASHINGTON -- Democrats controlling the House have announced that they won't restore the much-criticized practice of "earmarking" federal funds for back-home projects that Republicans banned eight years ago.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey — who wants to restore the practice — announced the decision in a letter to her colleagues, saying there isn't a "bipartisan, bicameral agreement" to bring earmarks back.
Earmarks used to include grants for community development projects, roads, university grants, and help for home-district military contractors, among others. But critics thought too many projects went to a handful of powerful lawmakers and fostered a "pay to play" culture in which campaign contributions were often solicited from lobbyists and others who sought earmarks.
Lowey, D-N.Y., said she is "a strong proponent of congressionally-directed spending" and hopes to start a bipartisan dialogue on restoring earmarks, which was banned after Republicans took the House in 2011.
Former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, led the way in imposing the earmark ban. He and other conservative critics argued that they were a corrupting influence and often led GOP lawmakers to vote for spending bills they might otherwise oppose. But when Republicans took control of the House they often had difficulty rounding up the votes for GOP-drafted spending bills without earmarks as enticements.
Lowey and other old-school Democrats like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland have solicited advice on restoring the practice, but GOP leaders have kept in place their own set of rules against lawmakers seeking the home-state goodies.
"Unfortunately, there is currently not the necessary bipartisan, bicameral agreement to allow the Appropriations Committee to earmark," Lowey said in her letter. "For that reason, I do not expect fiscal year 2020 House spending bills to include congressionally-directed spending."
Lowey hopes to start a conversation that might result in bringing back earmarking, a favored practice of top Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky not long ago. Some Republicans in the House have sought to restore earmarking as well, arguing that directing dollars to public entities such as cities and towns is entirely appropriate.