Sept. 14 — The House should consider protecting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects from prohibitions on legislative earmarks, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) said.
Rooney touted the idea at a House Rules subcommittee hearing Sept. 14 called to hear from rank-and-file members on proposed changes to House rules for the 115th Congress that will begin in January 2017. If Republicans retain control of the House for the 115th, their conference would push through any changes in rules early in January.
Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made prohibiting earmarks—specific projects included in bill texts or committee reports at the request of lawmakers to benefit their districts—one of his signature accomplishments. While the ban has widespread support within the Republican conference, some lawmakers say they know the needs of their districts better than federal agencies and should be able to direct projects accordingly. An exemption of a portion of spending would probably be seen as a retreat from the earmark ban and would face an uphill battle in the Republican conference.
Rooney said earmarks had been abused in the past but that the complete ban is not helpful.
“The problem is, we don't spend any less money,” he said, because then agency officials determine how projects are allocated instead of lawmakers. “We can't do anything for our constituents, who pay tax dollars and expect us to get things done for them.”
Under Rooney's proposal, outlined in a resolution (H. Res. 813) he introduced in July, the earmark ban currently in House rules would exclude language that “relates to an existing or proposed water resources development project of the Corps of Engineers.”
One subcommittee member, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), said the idea deserved discussion, though he was unsure whether he could support it. “I'm not sure where I stand on it, myself,” he said.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said he thought many Republicans now regretted the earmark ban. “If it were a secret vote, I think you'd reinstate earmarks,” he said. When they last controlled the House in 2010, Democrats said increased disclosure of earmark sponsorship was enough to prevent abuses.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) appeared at the hearing to push his proposal to make it harder to depose a sitting House speaker. Nunes's proposal would make a resolution to “vacate the chair” of the speaker privileged—meaning it would be required to get expedited floor action—only if it had the support of a majority of either the House majority or minority party.
The idea takes an indirect swipe at the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative and libertarian House Republicans who forced Boehner to step down by threats to force a vote on vacating the chair in 2015. While the group made up less than one-sixth of the Republican conference, it was able to force a showdown using the procedural mechanism of the motion to vacate the chair. Nunes's change, if successful, would insulate House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) from a similar move,
Nunes said such a move could still be made, but his change would simply remove its fast-track status. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) agreed, saying, “It would not prevent anybody from offering anything.”
Earlier, in a Sept. 7 letter to their fellow Republicans, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-W.Va.) and Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), proposed three major rules changes meant to “restore the health of our Conference and the functionality of our institution.”
The changes would require committee markups of bills that have the support of the majority of Republicans on the panel that has jurisdiction of the bill; make floor amendments in order automatically if they have a required number of co-sponsors; and require a Republican party conference before floor action on resolutions that have the signatures of at least 25 percent of the conference.
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For more information, the letter from Davis, Griffith and Messer is available at http://src.bna.com/iAm.
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