House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday halted an effort to bring back earmarks.
A measure to water down the 2011 ban on earmarks likely had enough support among the House GOP conference to be adopted, according to a source in the room, but the speaker successfully lobbied his members to withdraw the measure before it could be voted on by secret ballot.
“We just had the ‘drain the swamp’ election. We don’t want to turn around two weeks later and have earmarks,” Ryan said, referring to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to take on the establishment in Washington.
In exchange for halting the vote, Ryan pledged to examine the issue before the full House and vote on the matter by the end of the first quarter next year.
The amendment ― filed by Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) ― would have allowed members of Congress to direct federal spending to projects in their home districts, with the exception of recreational facilities, museums or parks. It would also have required lawmakers proposing earmarks to be identified and their requests to originate in committee.
Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity strongly opposed the effort, calling it an example of reckless spending that led to “bridges to nowhere, teapot museums, and monuments to politicians.” Some government watchdog groups, however, have judged the ban to be counterproductive and possibly even constitutionally questionable.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is retiring and just stepped down as Democratic leader, scoffed at a reporter Wednesday who asked if he’s a fan of earmarks.
“Me? What a question to ask me. I’m one of the kings of earmarks,” Reid said to laughs.
“I think it was a terrible disservice to America to come up with this stupid idea, stupid idea, to stop congressional-directed spending,” he continued. “Of course we should be doing it. It’s a way we get things done around here. It’s a way it was done for centuries. And all of a sudden, someone comes up with the bright idea that all the government agencies and the White House can do it better than we can. They can’t.”
Jen Bendery and Matt Fuller contributed reporting.