Image for Congressionally Directed Spending Returns, Earns Bipartisan Spending Bill Support

Congressionally directed spending (CDS), the rebranded name of earmarks, accounted for $9 billion of the $1.5 trillion Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus spending package recently approved by Congress. CDS backers said the more than 3,500 projects that senators and House members supported provided the political glue for the solid bipartisan support of the final omnibus spending bill.

Earmarks were criticized as pork barrel politics. But reforms requiring more transparency have allowed the practice to resume in this annual appropriations period.

“Our view is that Congressional Directed Spending funds projects that are too small or just don’t fit well with rigid and sometimes arbitrary competitive federal grant criteria,” explains CFM Federal Affairs Partner Joel Rubin. “Without CDS, these projects would depend solely on state, local or private resources or, more likely, wouldn’t happen at all. Many times, it’s small and medium size communities that benefit the most from the return of CDS projects.”

CFM’s federal affairs team assisted its Oregon and Washington clients in receiving $27.65 million in FY 2022 earmarks. Projects included funding for police equipment, mental health crisis teams, road improvements and clean water infrastructure projects. 

The New York Times compiled statistics on the FY 2022 earmarks, which showed Democratic lawmakers obtained $5 billion for 3,682 separate projects and Republicans secured $3.4 billion for 1,014 projects. Another 266 projects totaling $45.1 million were advocated by members from both parties.

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were among the top rung of senators to secure federal earmarks in the FY 2022 omnibus spending bill.

The lawmaker who raked in the most CDS spending – $551.5 million – was Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, who not coincidentally is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Oregon Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley ranked 12th and 13th on the list of CDS champions at $194.4 million and $192.4 million, respectively. Washington’s two senators didn’t break into the top 30 senators. Wyden chairs Senate Finance and Merkley sits on Senate Appropriations.

Washington Democratic Congressman Derek Kilmer, who represents Tacoma and most of the Olympic Peninsula, ranked 26th among House members. No Oregon congressional representative made the top 30 House list. Kilmer is a member of House Appropriations.

“Earmarks can help members feel like they have a stake in the legislative process, in a world where power is really concentrated with party leaders,” according to Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They need to show some skin in the game and community projects funded by earmarks remind them why they came to Washington.”

“We work extensively with the Pacific Northwest delegation and to a person they treated the CDS process with transparency and respect,” Rubin says. “Communities and firms like ours that represent communities were required to make a solid case for projects that we advocated. Members of the delegation supported CDS requests for projects that made sense, added value and reflected local and national priorities.”

Many times it’s small and medium size communities that benefit the most from the return of Congressionally Directed Spending projects.

While some Republicans scorned the return of CDS projects, some of the biggest winners were from the GOP, most of whom voted for the omnibus spending bill. In addition to Shelby, that group included Senators Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt, Shelley Moore Capito, Lisa Murkowski, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Susan Collins, Jerry Morgan and Roger Wicker. Only North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr, who is credited with $134.1 million in CDS requests and ranked 24th on the Senate list, voted no on the spending bill.

Twenty of the top CDS winners in the House were Republican, including the overall champion, Congressman Blaine Luitkemeyer who secured $56 million in CDS for his district in Missouri that extends from Jefferson City to St. Louis suburbs. The late Congressman Don Young of Alaska, the longest serving Republican in Congress in history, obtained $23.7 million. Before his death, he voted for the omnibus spending bill. Luitkemeyer didn’t.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, the new chair of House Appropriations who pushed for restoration of CDS, didn’t rank in the top 30 House members bringing home funding. DeLauro rebranded earmarks as “community project funding” and imposed a cap of 1 percent of the total appropriation. 

FY 2022 ends September 30 and the process for submitting CDS requests for Fiscal Year 2023 is already underway.