With the Senate done battling over President Biden's coronavirus rescue package, it's preparing to tackle another priority: earmarks.
Driving the news: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top members on the Senate Appropriations Committee, are expected to work out a deal restoring the congressional spending tool in the coming weeks, committee aides tell Axios.
- Earmarks give lawmakers the power to direct spending to pay for special projects in their districts. They've already been reintroduced in the House.
- The process faces tougher obstacles in the Senate, given its razor-thin majority, though lawmakers are hopeful Leahy can reach an agreement with Shelby.
- Two Democratic committee aides tell Axios that if Republicans refuse to come on board, they expect Leahy will drop earmarks altogether rather than try to push through a Democrat-only proposal.
Behind the scenes: For years, Appropriations Committee members have privately complained about the absence of earmarks.
- “Congress has the power of the purse laid out by the Constitution, directing where U.S. taxpayer dollars will go," a committee aide said."The idea that some bureaucrat in D.C. has a better idea of where funding should go in these districts and states, than the representatives themselves, is absurd."
- The aide said most Appropriations Committee members share the sentiment.
Leahy and other pro-earmarks lawmakers have a couple of tools to help restore earmarks:
Joe Biden. He was very effective in using earmarks while in the Senate, and successfully used them to get funding for Dover Air Force Base and other projects in Delaware.
- While no one in the executive branch will openly admit they like earmarks, since they cede power to Congress, the president "certainly understands earmarks and their value," one aide said.
- Biden has been quiet about the topic, a sign he's giving Congress breathing room to negotiate.
Fresh guardrails. Democrats plan to implement new restrictions making it far more difficult to misuse earmarks.
- A series of scandals involving members abusing the process prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011.
- The new rules would limit the number of requests each lawmaker can make; require each earmark to have community support; cap total funding projects to 1% of all discretionary spending, and require members to post their earmark requests on their websites.
The bottom line: The longer they stray from 2011 and the more turnover in their chambers, members of Congress will find it more difficult to reinstitute them.
Go deeper: Here come Earmarks 2.0.