GOP used to love earmarks — but they don't want Democrats using them now

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Congressional Republicans didn't complain when they got millions of dollars for their own pet projects.

Republicans in Congress are denouncing decisions by the Democratic majorities in both chambers to bring back a system that allows members to make appropriations for specific projects. But in years past, many of the people now objecting relied on that very system — known as "earmarking" — to deliver tens of millions of dollars in funding to their own constituents.

The far-right House Freedom Caucus announced on Wednesday that it has taken an "official position" opposing "the use of earmarks, whether in the 117th Congress or any future Congress."

"I am totally against it," Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the group's founding chair, told Politico. "I don't think Republicans should be supportive of earmarks."

A spokesperson for Jordan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But according to Taxpayers for Common Sense data, Jordan obtained about $8 million in earmarks between 2008 and 2010 for his own pet projects.

When Congress passes appropriations legislation, it indicates how much federal money will go to which agencies and programs. For many years, lawmakers could allocate portions of appropriated funding to specific projects — often in their own states and districts — rather than relying on the executive branch to make those determinations.

Supporters say that system made it easier for legislators to make deals and gave Congress more of a say in where the money went.

But critics of pork-barrel spending — the practice of using government funds on programs that mainly benefit only a lawmaker's own constituents —opposed the process, suggesting it fueled corruption and waste.

In 2011, Congress placed a moratorium on earmarks that has been in effect since.

Since regaining majorities in both chambers of Congress in January, Democrats reportedly plan to bring back the system, though likely with safeguards to ensure earmarks go only to public institutions and nonprofit organizations.

Like Jordan, two other Freedom Caucus congressmen who were serving before the ban also made frequent use of the earmark system: Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas received $12,766,700 in earmarks between 2008 and 2010; Rep. Darrell Issa of California obtained $19,792,500 over that same period.

Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, a senior Republican who got $28,065,000 in earmarks during those three years, also denounced the idea of bringing back the system. "I understand the arguments, but I've lived through the abuses of past earmarks," he told Politico on Wednesday. "I'm not a fan of restoring them. Right now, I'm very skeptical."

"Earmarks allow lobbyists and politicians to belly up to the pork barrel buffet in order to fund pet projects that are based on politics and favors instead of merit," Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania tweeted on Feb. 15, "Going back down this road will only fuel more overspending and further undermine the legislative process."

According to a 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer report, Toomey, who became a leading critic of earmarks during his tenure in the House of Representatives, obtained at least $9 million worth of earmarks early in his career, including $3 million for a company that was a major source of his own campaign contributions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who delivered more than $458 million in earmarks between 2008 and 2010, said on Thursday he does not expect Senate Republicans to use the system this time around.

"I can tell you, the overwhelming majority of the Republican conference in the Senate is not in favor of going back to earmarks," the Kentucky Republican said. "I'm assuming those people, even if the Democrats craft the bill so that those are permitted, will not be asking for them."

Spokespeople for Gohmert, Issa, Brady, and Toomey did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.