U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar hopes the new Congress will re-introduce earmarks, especially now Democrats control the U.S. Senate.
An earmark is a congressional provision that directs the federal government to fund a specific project.
They were eliminated following huge gains by Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections. Tea Party supporters did not like earmarks because they were a vehicle through which members of Congress could bring “pork barrel” projects to their districts.
Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, spoke about the possibility of earmarks being reintroduced in the 117th Congress during a recent news conference held at the Center for Education and Economic Development in Mission.
During the Q&A part, governmental affairs consultant Hollis Rutledge asked what the chances were of having earmarks brought back.
“Let me ask about my favorite subject,” Rutledge said. Before he could say what his favorite subject was, Cuellar intervened. “Earmarks,” he chuckled.
“What is the latest on that?” Rutledge asked.
“Well the House wants to do earmarks. The Senate had a ban on earmarks,” Cuellar responded. “I sent a note to our new chairwoman, Rosa DeLauro, (saying) there is no excuse now because we have the Senate. I assume the Democrats are not going to say no to earmarks.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, is the new chair of the House Committee on Appropriations. Cuellar is a member of the panel.
Cuellar then told a story about earmarks from ten years ago.
“I finally get on Appropriations, the only Democrat from Texas on House Appropriations and then they take earmarks away. The Republicans, after the Tea Party thing. Now, if we get earmarks I can say, put this money for Mission, put this money for Penitas, put this money here. We still have to go and do grants, but with earmarks it gives me the ability to direct monies to where we need to put monies. So, it looks good.”
Cuellar then asked Rutledge if he could tell a funny story about earmarks, Rutledge, a former chairman of the Hidalgo County Republican Party, said yes.
“It was 2010, we lost the House to the Republicans. (John) Boehner comes in (as House speaker). I had a whole bunch of earmarks for one of his (Rutledge’s) clients. I think it was La Joya. $500,000 for a library or something,” Cuellar said.
“So, the Republicans do away with earmarks. The first phone call I get is from Hollis. Where is my earmark for La Joya? I am like, let me get this right. The Republicans take over the House, they take the earmarks away and the first person who calls me is the former Hidalgo County Republican Party chair asking for his earmark. What is happening?”
Rutledge and Cuellar laugh about it now but neither were happy at the time. Doing away with earmarks prevented Cuellar from directing funds to the La Joya project. Without earmarks, members of Congress can ask federal agency officials to help but the decision-making is left to an unelected bureaucrat.
“You know what, it works,” Cuellar said of earmarks. “I hope we can get earmarks back. Mayor, if you have a project, put it here, you have a project, put it here. We can do that.”
Cuellar was referencing Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, who was in the audience.
“I am hopeful. It will be good,” Cuellar added.
Article was originally published on January 17, 2021.