House Republicans on Wednesday voted to reverse their conference-wide ban on earmarks, according to two sources familiar with the vote, marking a change after the spending practice had been banned for a decade.
The vote, which was conducted via secret ballot, happened as Democrats are preparing to allow earmarks in upcoming spending and infrastructure legislation. Earmarks allow members to directly put into a bill where they want a specific amount of money to go.
While many members of the Republican Conference stood and spoke in the meeting in opposition to overturning the ban, the GOP would be at a distinct disadvantage in negotiations over spending bills in the future if they did not allow earmarks.
The practice, known officially as “directed congressional spending,” but more commonly known as earmarks, was banned in 2011 during the rise of the Tea Party as it became associated with bloated, pork barrel spending that in some cases went to for-profit corporations tied to wealthy donors.
Those who supported overturning the ban argued behind closed doors that not empowering Congress would give more power to the Biden administration to make spending decisions.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wouldn’t tell reporters how he voted during the GOP Conference meeting but appeared open to Republicans participating in the spending practice.
“The Democrats want to bring (earmarks) back,” he said. “There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes. This doesn’t add one more dollar. I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not (President Joe) Biden.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, an appropriator, told CNN, “I’ll be damned if I am going to cede all spending authority to Biden and his administration.”
And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise wouldn’t share how he voted on the secret ballot, but acknowledged to reporters that not allowing the spending practice would hurt Republicans.
“We talked about problems that occurred over the years,” the Louisiana Republican said, adding his concerns about how the Biden administration would be distributing money in the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.
But not all Republicans were in favor of reintroducing earmarks. The House Freedom Caucus, which includes many of the most conservative Republicans, said in a statement last month that they were opposed to bringing back the spending practice.
House Democrats announced last month they would once again allow the practice of lawmakers specifically steering funding to projects in their districts.