(Reuters) – House Republicans are weighing whether to join Democrats in getting back into “earmarks” – the practice of loading spending bills with legislators’ pet projects – and a decision is expected this week, two sources familiar with the process said .
The sources said House Republicans deliberated on the issue twice this week, and sentiment is growing toward embracing earmarks roughly a decade after the party decided to scrap the long-standing practice amid a raft of high-profile controversies. Democrats who control the House agreed to bring back earmarks this year.
A move to participate in earmarks will draw criticism from the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which has long criticized the practice as wasteful. It may also signal that Republicans are willing to negotiate on U.S. President Joe Biden’s next major agenda item: a massive infrastructure package.
Earmarks are considered legislative “sweeteners” that Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, can use to dissuade its members from defecting on major bills and attract votes from Republicans who otherwise would reject the measure.
If Republicans agree to participate in earmarks, they are signaling they could be engaged on an infrastructure bill and may be willing to trade support if it means getting funding for popular projects in their districts.
“It would certainly suggest members are preparing for talks around the budget and infrastructure,” said a source familiar with the discussions.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office did not return calls and emails on Tuesday seeking comment.
Earmarks became a hot campaign issue in the early 2000s after a long string of scandals in which lawmakers from both parties secured earmarks to enrich themselves.
In 2005, Senator Ted Stevens inserted an earmark to build a $223 million bridge to connect Gravina Island in his home state of Alaska – population 50 – to the mainland. Quickly nicknamed the “bridge to nowhere,” it became a lightning rod for critics.
Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham of California resigned and pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks from military contractors for steering business their way, using his positions on military committees to insert earmarks. In 2006, Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes.
When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they banned the practice. Urged by President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate soon followed suit. Earmarks have been gone since.
Democratic lawmakers announced earlier year that they were bringing back the practice, hoping it could solve a few issues, such as keeping their narrow majorities together on big votes, boosting vulnerable members’ reelection chances in 2022 and perhaps attracting Republican support.
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