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Since Chairman DeFazio is apparently eager to start working on an infrastructure package, with congressionally directed spending as a big part of it (as Punchbowl reports below), why does Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer insist on including their not-pandemic-related tunnel and bridge pet projects in what they claim is a bill for COVID?


Punchbowl AM
John Bresnahan, Anna Palmer & Jake Sherman


We already knew that House Democrats were going to bring back earmarks for the 12 annual spending bills. But here’s something new: Democrats are moving toward allowing earmarks on the large-scale infrastructure bill they’re planning for this spring.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told us Wednesday that he’s planning to draft a large-scale, five-year highway and infrastructure bill that will include earmarks. DeFazio’s bill will renew the nation’s surface transportation laws, which expire at the end of the year, and authorize a broad range of national infrastructure projects. This is the kind of thing that will be big, expensive and a huge target for the Biden administration as they look for a jobs package post Covid relief.

Allowing earmarks could make it easier to pass this bill. It could give lawmakers a chance to list the projects in their district that need federal cash, and give them more political buy in to the package. It will also push appropriations lobbying into overdrive. If you’re a state, municipality or local government and you need an infrastructure project funded, it’s time to get a lobbyist. Just like the old days in D.C.

“I intend to do member designated local high priority projects,” DeFazio said matter of factly, using a formal name for earmarks. DeFazio has a set of rules: The earmark has to be for a public project or non-profit that’s consistent with state infrastructure plans. The request has to be filed online, and the requestor needs to sign an affidavit that they don’t have any “pecuniary interest” in the project.

DeFazio said he’s spoken to Republicans about earmarking, but he’s not sure they will sign on. The House last year passed a nearly $500 billion highway package, while the Senate — then under GOP control — adopted a smaller package. The two chambers were never able to work out an agreement, but DeFazio intends to move quickly on the issue this year.

The Biden administration has been cagey about what’s next for them as they try to push a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill through Congress. But it’s safe to say that lawmakers are raring for an infrastructure package. They’re just waiting for President Joe Biden to sign on.