WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders on Wednesday halted a bid by some GOP lawmakers to restore earmarks, those congressional directives that steer funds to specific projects back home.
Republican lawmakers were discussing the plan at a closed-door meeting when Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the plug, saying the issue should be debated in public. Ryan promised to revisit the issue early next year.
Former Speaker John Boehner imposed a moratorium on earmarks several years ago after they became associated with corruption and boondoggle projects such as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.”
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he supports efforts to revisit earmarks — with more openness and clearly defined rules — but said the timing was off.
Voters chose President-elect Donald Trump in part because of his pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption, and restoring earmarks so soon “would have been a bad look,” Simpson said.
Still, Simpson and other lawmakers defended earmarks, saying the five-year-old moratorium has given power to “unelected bureaucrats” in the executive branch who now decide whether projects important to local districts are built.
“There’s a sentiment that we’ve given away too much of our own power to the executive branch,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a seven-term veteran and ally of both Boehner and Ryan.
Asked about Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp,” Cole replied that the swamp “must be in the executive branch,” because voters “didn’t change much in the legislative branch,” where Republicans maintained control of both chambers.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the third-ranking House Republican, said that under President Barack Obama, executive-branch officials “are writing rules and regulations that are having a negative impact on our economy. It’s time to restore that balance and frankly return that power to the people of this country.”
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