WASHINGTON — Oklahoma’s House Republicans will not submit dozens of requests for federal funding of state projects worth millions of dollars after their agreement to support a temporary ban on earmarks.
The House Republican Conference voted Thursday for a self-imposed, unilateral moratorium on all earmarks a week before the deadline for submitting requests to the House Appropriations Committee.
"It’s a corrupted process,” Rep. John Sullivan said in explaining his support for the moratorium, which is expected to remain throughout this year.
Sullivan said his office would notify those who submitted requests to his office that they will not go to the House committee.
He did say that certain earmarks deserve support, and he did not rule out reviving the earmark process after what he called much-needed reforms are adopted.
Rep. Frank Lucas focused on the national debt. "Federal spending has gotten completely out of control and has driven this country to historic levels of debt,” he said. "Now is the time for Congress to get serious about curbing spending and decreasing the national debt.”
Rep. Tom Cole is the only Oklahoman on an appropriations panel in either chamber, traditionally a slot used by lawmakers to steer funds toward their states.
Cole also was the only House Republican from Oklahoma not to say whether he backs the moratorium.
Still, he said the GOP action represents a serious effort to reform a process tinged with corruption, but he questioned linking it to solving the deficit crisis.
"The real cause of the current deficit is unrestrained, programmatic spending and the failure to address entitlement reform,” he said. "It is my hope that both parties will now work toward developing a transparent and corruption-free framework that restores public confidence in the process by which Congress addresses national and local priorities."
Rep. Mary Fallin said it was time to end the "business as usual" attitude.
"This moratorium is a good first step towards earning back the trust of the American people and protecting their hard-earned tax dollars,” she said. "But we still have a long road ahead when it comes to getting our fiscal house in order.”
The moratorium was announced by House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, following a closed-door meeting of the group.
"For millions of Americans, the earmark process in Congress has become a symbol of a broken Washington,” Boehner said, calling the ban an important step.
"But the more difficult battle lies ahead, and that’s stopping the spending spree in Washington that is saddling our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars in debt.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who does not request earmarks, praised the House Republicans.
"I’ve long said that earmarks are the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington,” he said. "Banning earmarks is a long-overdue, common-sense step that will help Congress win back the trust of the public and tackle our mounting fiscal challenges.”
So far, only House Republicans have adopted a temporary ban on all earmarks.
House Democrats have banned earmarks for for-profit entities, and Rep. Dan Boren, the only Oklahoma Democrat in Congress, is expected to submit requests.
The Senate reportedly is not considering such bans.
Watchdog groups expressed hope that the House Republicans’ action would lead to further action regarding earmarks.
Here were some of the projects requested by Oklahoma’s House members in a major spending bill approved by Congress last year:
Rep. Dan Boren
$3.5 million for Tenkiller Lake
$1.7 million for Oologah Lake (with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe)
$332,500 for an elevated rail project in Claremore
$300,000 for McAlester water treatment plant improvements
Rep. John Sullivan
$712,500 for Tulsa Transit
$570,000 for reconstruction of the Interstate 44 bridge over 163rd East Avenue in Tulsa (with Inhofe)
$380,000 for reconstruction and replacement of the Interstate 244 bridge over the Arkansas River (with Inhofe)
$190,000 for Jenks Public Schools’ reading initiative for at-risk students
Rep. Frank Lucas
$274,000 for Oklahoma State University research on animal waste management in semi-arid agroecosystems (with Boren and Inhofe)
Read about the earmark requests by Oklahoma’s five U.S. House members:
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