Among Republicans, Rooney has led the charge, arguing that Congress needs earmarks in particular to direct money to water infrastructure projects undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers. “Getting rid of them completely was a mistake,” he told me. He acknowledged that constituents back home will initially get on him for his support for earmarks, having heard the much louder campaign against them as a tool of corruption and cronyism. But, Rooney said, “if you give me five minutes to make the case, every head in the room is nodding in agreement.”
If Rooney had his way, Republicans would have brought back a limited form of earmarks a year ago. He pushed for an internal conference vote to allow them under House rules. But when it became clear his proposal might have enough support to pass, and fearful of the potential backlash to a closed-door revival of earmarks, Ryan stepped in and persuaded Republicans to slow down. In exchange for scrapping the vote, the speaker promised to allow hearings on the issue so that if Congress did revive earmarks, it would do so in a transparent, deliberative way.