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House Republicans vote in secret to bring back pork-barrel spending

House Republicans voted Wednesday to end their conference-wide ban on earmarks, restoring GOP support for pork-barrel spending that directs money to pet projects in home districts.

The resolution was passed during the GOP’s weekly conference meeting. The vote was 102-84 in favor of restoring earmarks and was conducted by secret ballot, so voters will not know which Republicans voted to bring back pork spending.

In 2010, House Republicans passed a moratorium on earmarks in their conference by voice vote, to show they were serious about cutting spending ahead of the midterm elections that year. Controversies like the wasteful $400 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska fueled Republican campaign promises decrying federal spending and promising reform.

After the 2010 Tea Party wave election handed the GOP control of the House and made Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) House speaker, Republicans pledged to hold a vote banning earmarks.

“Earmarks have become a symbol of a dysfunctional Congress and serve as a fuel line for the culture of spending that has dominated Washington for too long,” GOP leaders said at the time.

But in recent years, earmark proponents have argued that the ban was a mistake and that the ability of legislators to trade their support for certain bills in exchange for earmarks in those bills is needed to move legislation through Congress.

With President Joe Biden advocating for big-budget items like a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, Republicans say they want more control over how that money is spent.

“”There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes. This doesn’t add one more dollar. I think members here know … about what should go in their district, not Biden,” Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters ahead of the conference vote.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) offered the resolution to end the GOP’s self-imposed earmark ban. His proposal included several rules to increase transparency, including requirements for GOP lawmakers to publicly disclose the earmark, provide written justification for any project, and verify that they have no financial stake in it.

“I’m a yes,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. “With the changes with transparency — it’s not the Upton Road to the Upton House, you have support in writing from local units of government — I think that’s a fair approach.”

Members of the House Freedom Caucus blasted their colleagues for supporting the return of pork spending, equating it to “legislative bribery.”

“I think we’ve got $30 trillion in debt and people are tired of the swamp, and the GOP should be ashamed of itself, if it jumps headfirst right back into the swamp,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said.

Senate Republicans are considering a similar measure to restore earmarks, which is supported by retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

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