United States Capitol. Photo: Chas Hundley
Oregon U.S. House Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield), chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Punchbowl News he plans to introduce a five-year infrastructure and highway bill that authorizes a wide range of national projects.
What made this newsworthy prior to the prospective bill’s introduction is that DeFazio said he planned to use earmarks in the legislation. Earmarking is the practice of members of Congress inserting into spending bills direct funding for projects in their home state congressional districts. It’s also what some call pork-barrel spending.
It’s also a practice that has not been used for a decade that is making a return.
In 2011, Senate Republicans voted to end the practice of earmarking, saying it lends itself to corruption, although earmarks first became well-known to voters during President George W. Bush’s administration in 2005 when lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) went to jail over bribes they took part in for earmarked spending.
House Democrats announced the official return of earmarks on February 26, a few days after DeFazio talked to Punchbowl News. RollCall.com reports Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering getting rid of GOP rules that bar them from the practice.
In the Punchbowl News story, DeFazio said earmarks would only be available for public projects and nonprofits that fall within Oregon’s infrastructure plans. Axios reports the House Committee on Appropriations will introduce new rules promoting transparency and strict limits on spending in earmarking.
Oregon’s 2019 Infrastructure Report Card gave the state an overall C-minus, a score derived from the cumulative studies of 10 infrastructure categories completed by state civil engineers.
In July 2020, DeFazio lead the House in passing a $500 billion roads, transit, and rail bill that he said will create millions of family-wage jobs. The bill has yet to be heard by the Senate, and it is not clear whether the COVID-19 Economic Relief Act will include funding for the 2020 infrastructure spending package.