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Senate plots its own earmark comeback

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.

"Nine minutes and 29 seconds": Prosecutors begin closing arguments in Chauvin trial

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All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, meeting Biden's April 19 deadline

All 50 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have now made U.S. adults over the age of 16 eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, meeting President Biden's April 19 deadline.

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Minneapolis braces for a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial

Minneapolis is waking up to images of an occupied city on Monday, as the city and the world await a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.

What it's like: Residents running errands, picking up dinner and heading to the dog park in recent days encountered heavily-armed National Guard troops stationed throughout the city.

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Russian authorities say jailed opposition leader Navalny has been transferred to hospital

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been hospitalized, one day after his doctor warned that the jailed Putin critic "could die at any moment," Russia's prison service said Monday.

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The state worst hit by the pandemic

Data: Hamilton Place Strategies; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the job facing governments was to save lives and save jobs. Very few states did well on both measures, while New York, almost uniquely, did particularly badly on both.

Why it matters: The jury is still out on whether there was a trade-off between the dual imperatives; a new analysis from Hamilton Place Strategies shows no clear correlation between the two.

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