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Earmark plot divides Senate Republicans

The six Republicans who said they expected to apply for trademarks are voters. Two of them will retire next year, one in reserve for a difficult election in 2022 and three have just been re-elected in 2020. For them, and for those who have not signed up in both cases , there is a main dilemma added to the desire to disobey the ban: fear of ceding the budgetary field to Democrats, who could divert millions of dollars of federal funding to local projects in their own states, while that Republican-led states are being left out.

“If House Republicans are asking for individual projects and House Democrats are – and Senate Democrats are – it seems to me that there is a big gap for the people we represent if we don’t. let’s not be part of this process, ”said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the senior Republican on the spending committee that funds the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services.

Republican support for the revival of allotments is largely concentrated among GOP appropriators, responsible for drafting annual expense bills. The Senses.Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.), Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Blunt all have said they expect to participate.

Democrats have already announced details of the new process to direct funding to specific projects in multiple states, from hospitals to colleges to repairing dams.

“The Democrats at the head have already made it known that they will be okay,” said Senator Thom Tillis (RN.C.). “So the debate is really this: would you just provide this tool to Democrats for directed credits?”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, himself a consummate appropriator, remains silent on the issue despite repeated questioning. It was the Kentucky Republican who accepted the Tea Party’s demands nearly 11 years ago by leading GOP senators to pass the ban, in conflict with his long-standing advocacy for the power of Congress to control people. expenses.

At that time, in 2010, the former representative of Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) Had been in prison for more than four years after his conviction for corruption, including accepting bribes for 2.4 millions of dollars.

Now Democrats are promising a more virtuous brand of brands designed to prevent bad actors like Cunningham from exploiting the process, and many Republicans are puzzled by the overhaul.

“The traditional trust system – no, I’m not in favor of that. So I’m just looking to see what comes out, ”said Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who is undecided on whether to participate.

After House Republicans voted by secret ballot last month to allow postings, Senate Republicans decided not to repeal or strengthen their ban when GOP lawmakers met last month to pass their rules . About a third of Republicans in the chamber were “drifting” to support the process again, before opponents made the hard sell for fiscal responsibility, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) Said.

Twenty Republican senators also signed a pact this month to oppose postings, denouncing their involvement in “an inherently unnecessary spending practice that is subject to serious abuse.” Several others who have not signed this pledge also say they are strongly opposed to this practice.

“I’m going to do everything I can to skip the process so that no one does benchmarks,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), who did not sign the letter of objection. “I’m serious. This is my plan for the future.

In both the House and the Senate, the new rules Democrats outlined require all assignment requests to be posted online. Lawmakers and their immediate families are not allowed to have a financial interest in the claims, and funds cannot go to for-profit recipients.

For newcomers who have never requested a trust before, the confusion over how to participate adds to the political dilemma.

“The process is so opaque. And it’s not clear to me. So I don’t know how I would do it, ”said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Who came to Congress in 2011, just after the trust ban was passed. “I don’t expect that to be really clarified in the future, but we’ll see. I’ll give them a chance.

Even some longtime lawmakers who have experience with the process have not given clear answers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who served in Congress for over 46 years, said he wanted to listen to his constituents first, but was “not very keen” to ask for marks .

“I think for the moment it would be better if I say no, I’m not going to take it,” he added. “To be honest with you, this is brand new. I haven’t treated him for 11 years.

Under the new allocation restrictions in both chambers, the amount of money that can be spent in the process is capped at 1% of discretionary funding, or roughly $ 14 billion. For some, under the appropriation budget of over $ 1.3 trillion, the allocation portion seems unnecessary since local funding needs can be met through the regular spending process.

“I don’t intend to apply for trademarks. You know, we’ve gotten pretty good at owning priorities, ”said Senator Kevin Cramer (RN.D.), a freshman senator. “On the one hand, there isn’t even enough money where we’re even talking about satisfying everyone’s desires.”

Two other factors decrease the attractiveness of brands this year.

Because Congress has cleared several multibillion-dollar contingency plans since the start of the pandemic – like the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus President Joe Biden signed off in March – the spoils of the regular credits process appear minimal compared to the funding senators can get for their states through the type of economic assistance programs adopted over the past year.

Biden has yet to submit his full budget request, and Democrats are concerned about passing an infrastructure package. Thus, Congress could move towards another interim spending bill in September, slowing current funding and completely nullifying debate over reserved spending in the meantime. Until Congress begins a real job of funding the government, Republicans have little incentive to adopt or decry brands.

“I don’t know,” Senator Richard Burr (RN.C.) said about whether he was considering applying for marks. “Are we going to have an appropriation bill?” You’re asking me to make a guess. I’m not going to do this.

Particularly among appropriators, there is a belief that specifying exactly where federal money should flow is not only the prerogative of lawmakers but also their duty.

Shelby, the Senate’s top Republican appropriator, noted that the renewed power to allocate funds will also help lawmakers on both sides to ensure that federal funding ends up where it is intended, rather than ceding that control to those responsible. of the Biden administration to do it as they see fit.

“I think we have to take it all deep down and go from there,” Shelby said. “Are you going to let Biden and his administration do all of this?”

Daniel Payne contributed to this report.

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