Earmarks – the practice whereby legislators can designate money for a specific (often pork barrel) purpose in their district – must officially be transparent under the U.S. Senate’s Rule 44. But the Senate Parliamentarian says Rule 44 does not apply to the legislative process by which the Senate most often considers appropriations bills.
According to staff for Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), in March, the FY22 omnibus was only publicly available for around 35 hours (Rule 44 mandates 48), and several House offices had taken down their required earmark disclosure pages. Senator Leahy (D-VT) responded that “these earmarks have been known for months,” but senators did not know which ones would actually be included in the bill until the final text was released. And once the text of the bill was released, many House offices had deleted that information from their websites.
Unfortunately, Braun’s staff says because the Senate was considering the legislation as an “amendment from the House,” the parliamentarian determined that Rule 44 did not apply.
Rule 44 states in part:
“1. (a) It shall not be in order to vote on a motion to proceed to consider a bill or joint resolution reported by any committee unless the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction or the Majority Leader or his or her designee certifies-
(1) that each congressionally directed spending item, limited tax benefit, and limited tariff benefit, if any, in the bill or joint resolution, or in the committee report accompanying the bill or joint resolution, has been identified through lists, charts, or other similar means including the name of each Senator who submitted a request to the committee for each item so identified; and
(2) that the information in clause (1) has been available on a publicly accessible congressional website in a searchable format at least 48 hours before such vote.
Senator Braun is introducing Senate Resolution 687 at 6:15 pm EST on Tuesday, July 12 to amend the Senate rules and remove the loophole that allows the Senate Parliamentarian to say Rule 44 doesn’t apply.
Braun addressed the issue of earmarks during the debate of the FY22 omnibus:
“Now, let’s talk about earmarks. It is kind of a gateway drug to more spending. There are 367 pages of earmarks. I just took a quick poll how much it weighs in paper—4 to 5 pounds. We haven’t had them for over 10 years, and now they are back.
“In the House, they said they are OK with it. In the Senate, the other side of the aisle said they are OK with it. We said we are not OK with it in our Republican conference, but any Senator can do it anyway.
“Those are called gimmicks and loopholes, and that is the way the place works. None of us here are sure how much money is actually being devoted to these. It is a wasteful tool that was away for a long time, and it is on top of a budget that was never done, and what we are doing this evening was supposed to have been done by September 30 of last year. Too many people depend on this place to have a system that is run by the seat of its pants.”
A few of the earmarks were identified by Braun in his speech:
- $500,000 to promote health equity in Yonkers in New York.
- $1.6 million for university research into equitable shellfish aquaculture in Rhode Island.
- $300,000 on the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Foundation, a leftwing lobbying group that claims that the Second Amendment has a history of being used as a tool of White supremacy.
It will interesting to see how many Senators who say they oppose earmarks will vote for Rule 44 to close the loophole.