After much discussion, House Democrats have announced they will allow members to request funding for specific projects as part of the process for assembling the spending bills that must be completed by September 30 to fund the government each year.
Labeled as “Community Project Funding” though commonly referred to as earmarks, the projects enjoyed bipartisan popularity in Congress before several scandals involving Members of Congress and earmark projects a decade-and-a-half ago led to limitations and an eventual ban in 2011, after Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives.
In reviving the projects in the House, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announced that several guardrails will be implemented to prevent such abuse. These include transparency measures, limits on the number of projects members can request, a cap on total funding for such projects, a ban on for-profit recipients and required expressions of community support.
Additionally, members will have to certify neither they nor immediate family members have financial interests in a project, no funding can go to for-profit recipients and a subset of projects will be audited by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) annually.
Despite mixed opinions on earmarks, members of Congress have increasingly been interested in reviving the measure for multiple reasons. These include allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional “power of the purse” and arguments that members best know the needs of their districts and should have a role in setting funding priorities. There is also a hope that if rank-and-file members have earmark interests at stake in the annual appropriations bills, such interests could lead to more “regular order” with Congress completing work on individual bills in a timely fashion rather than the common approach of a late-year omnibus bill.
Organizations interested in pursuing such funding will want to develop ideas and justifications and engage near-term with their House members. Not all offices may opt to submit such requests, with a particular divide playing out within the House Republican Caucus. Additionally, the Senate is still determining its plan for member-directed funding requests.
The earmark news comes as the fiscal year 2022 budget and appropriations process is moving forward at a slower pace than typical years. The usual timeline slipped as the new Biden administration has needed more time to develop and submit its budget, change in the balance of power in the Senate, and maintain an acute focus on the COVID-19 relief package and, earlier in the year, the second impeachment trial of former President Trump.
For more information, see the recently published House Appropriations Committee Reform Fact Sheet.