COMPASS: Earmarks grease the skids of spending deal

December 12th, 2022

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. 

It’s spending season in Washington and things are about to get real. Democrat and Republican appropriators are still desperately trying to salvage a trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill. Republicans reportedly want higher defense spending, while Democrats want parity between defense and nondefense spending. There are three ways out of this: 

1) A short-term funding bill extending the funding deadline from this Friday to (you guessed it) December 23 (or later), and then passage of an omnibus;

2) Passage of a year-long continuing resolution which locks in current spending levels (the ones codified by a Democratic congressional majority) with the inclusion of earmarks to sweeten the pot;

3) Passage of a short-term continuing resolution into early next year, which would allow a new Republican House majority to write their own spending bills. 

The third option is the one supported by conservatives. As leading conservatives wrote last week:

We…urge all Republicans to oppose passage of a giant omnibus spending bill that will lock in Democratic spending priorities and limit the ability of a new Republican House majority to shape their own spending policies. Debate and enactment of key policy issues should be conducted when all newly elected members have been sworn in next year – not in a flurry of last-minute law making designed to extend the priorities of a Democratic majority beyond its existence.

Departing members of Congress should not disenfranchise newly elected members of Congress by denying them the ability to vote on and otherwise impact major policy items in the first months of the new Congress. And Nancy Pelosi should not be able to make policy for the forthcoming House Republican majority.

It’s also worth noting that earmarks are being used to make a year-long CR more palatable, which is case in point the problem with earmarks (or, as some lawmakers like to call them, “congressionally directed spending”) – they’re used as little bribes to grease passage of bills that would ordinarily be opposed. They’re a tool used by establishment Washington to pass establishment bills. 

While the practice remains banned in the Senate Republican conference (for now), House Republicans voted in 2021 to bring the practice back – and once again approved the use of earmarks again just last month.

Passage of a year-long continuing resolution – or an omnibus – which limits their ability to pass their own spending policies in the new year might be their reward. Though the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call put Washington’s calculus more bluntly: while House Republicans and newly elected Republicans in both the House and Senate may get cut off at the knees, at least departing appropriators Sen. Richard Shelby and Sen. Patrick Leahy “would get their earmarks funded.”

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One More Thing…

I recently joined Heritage Foundation president Dr. Kevin Roberts for an episode of his podcast, The Kevin Roberts Show. You can catch it here!