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Vote no, take the dough: Earmarks in the minibus

News: Congress approved more than $71 million in earmarks for lawmakers who voted against the most recent minibus spending bill, according to a Punchbowl News analysis.

This is a prime example of what former Speaker Nancy Pelosi says: They voted no but took the dough.

Look for yourself: We have a simple spreadsheet of the lawmakers who landed projects and then voted against the $1.2 trillion spending package. Passage of this bill last week finally ended the long fight over FY2024 government funding. How long? Congress and the White House are already working on FY2025.

Now before we dive in, let’s be clear. These earmarks were requested long ago, far before the contours of the minibus package were set.

But it was once unheard of for a member or senator to get an earmark in a bill and then vote against the legislation. That’s the whole point of earmarks. Today it’s relatively commonplace.

The prime examples are Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Bennet, who said he voted against the bill because it didn’t include any new Ukraine aid, got $25.9 million in earmarks in the six-bill package. Many of the earmarks were joint projects with Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), who voted for the bill.

But some items — $889,900 for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, for instance — were Bennet’s alone.

Sanders got $15.3 million in earmarks for everything ranging from Vermont Folklife, to the Very Merry Theatre, to the University of Vermont. Yet Sanders ultimately voted against the package because it banned funding for UNRWA, the Palestinian relief organization, while providing more than $3 billion in new military aid to Israel.

Sanders got an impressive $3 million for the Community Health Centers of Burlington, for instance.

Sanders also touted the $15.3 million in funding he got despite voting against the package.

Republicans are hardly innocent here.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said he voted no because “[t]he status quo is unsustainable, and this bill is more of the same.” Yet Tuberville secured $2.7 million for a new storm shelter in Demopolis, Ala., as part of the legislation.

Rep. Mike Guest (R-Miss.), the chair of the House Ethics Committee, bagged $4 million for Purple Creek flood mitigation and restoration in Ridgeland. He voted no.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who helped craft the Fiscal Responsibility Act that dictated the spending levels in the bill, got $3.5 million for the East Baton Rouge Parish mayor’s office of homeland security and emergency preparedness.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) created a nifty graphic explaining why he was against the bill — the need for more fiscal responsibility. But Curtis obtained a hefty $2.4 million for the Neffs Canyon debris basin project.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) conceded that he voted against the bill yet procured earmark funding. To be clear, he got $4.3 million.

House Democrats got in the vote-no-get-dough game too.

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) got $1.38 million for the Mars Hill Flood Control Improvement District. Carson even tweeted on Tuesday that he secured cash for his district. But he voted no as well.

The main takeaway here is that earmarks aren’t the carrot they used to be. Back in the day, if a lawmaker did that to an Appropriations Committee chair or their leadership, those senior colleagues may have even crossed out that funding while the bill was on the floor. Or alternatively, the offending lawmaker would be told in no uncertain terms they’re never getting another earmark ever again.

But things aren’t the way they used to be. Party leaders wait so long to pass appropriations bills that they can’t cut off anyone. Or if they did, the member would start howling on social media. Better to just grin and bear it.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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