A 10-year ban on earmarks in Congress is over, meaning members can once again direct federal agencies to spend specific amounts on projects in their home states, including in Oklahoma.
For many Americans, the term 'earmark' conjures up thoughts of corrupt dealing and wasteful spending, but advocates, Republicans and Democrats alike, say that's changed.
"The days are gone," said Congress Markwayne Mullin in a recent interview, "where earmarks were something to buy someone’s vote."
Rep. Mullin, (R) OK-2, says the return of earmarks is a good thing because it means direct appropriating authority is being returned to the people who not only are constitutionally charged with disbursing federal monies, but also who have direct knowledge of where in their states and districts federal dollars will do the most good.
"As a representative, I should be able to appropriate funds for that navigational channel," said Rep. Mullin. referring to a potential project in his own Second District.
Under rules approved in February, members can submit a maximum of 10 earmark requests, they must be submitted to the committee of jurisdiction with proof of their need, along with a pledge that neither the member nor any family member would benefit from the appropriation.
"And it’s only 1 percent of the overall budget," noted Mullin, "[and] at the same time, it becomes public information before it gets voted on, so how do you get more transparent than that."
Rep. Mullin did not submit any earmarks for the FY 2022 budget, but three Oklahoma House members did.
Congressman Tom Cole's seven requests include $7.9 million dollars to modernize the Fires Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator (FISTA) campus in Lawton and $50 million to turn the Ardmore Industrial Airpark into the Global Transportation and Industrial Park.
Rep. Stephanie Bice's four requests include $10 million to rebuild bridges over I-35 in Edmond, and $400,000 to create a Native American Arthritis Research & Training Center at OMRF in Oklahoma City.
And among Rep. Frank Lucas's four requests are $2 million to create the Center for Indigenous Health Equity in Tulsa and $2.3 million for the Ponca City Multi-Model Transportation Infrastructure Project..
Congressman Kevin Hern is a member of the House delegation who opposes the return of earmarks. He would prefer they still be banned.
"While it doesn’t change the amount of spending," said Rep. Hern, (R) OK-1, "what it does do is it has the potential to change how someone votes. If they know that they can be enticed with an earmark, whether they should get it or not, as determined by the appropriators, it can determine whether they both positively on some future bill that they would’ve otherwise not voted on."
Earmarks are also being allowed again in the Senate, but only among Democrats. Republican leadership, so far, has decided to keep the ban in place.