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15 Republican senators vow to oppose earmarks amid intraparty squabble

Fifteen Senate Republicans on Monday pledged to uphold their party's decadelong ban on earmarks, drawing a battle line days before the GOP is set to vote on whether to reinstate the spending practice.

In a letter obtained by POLITICO, the group — led by conservative Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — made clear they are “committed” to the earmark ban and “will not vote to repeal it.”

“We will not participate in an inherently wasteful spending practice that is prone to serious abuse,” the lawmakers wrote.

The anti-earmark letter includes a diverse mix of lawmakers, illustrating that the opposition to so-called congressionally directed spending spans the ideological spectrum in the GOP. Among the signatories: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, an ally of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a potential 2024 contender who challenged certification of the election results; Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of GOP leadership; Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial; and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian Trump ally.

The Senate GOP will vote Wednesday on whether to reinstate earmarks, which were first banned in 2010 after conservatives turned against directing money to projects like the notorious “Bridge to Nowhere" in Ketchikan, Alaska.

With Democrats planning to revive earmarks now that they control Congress, Republicans have wrestled over whether they should take advantage of the spending practice. House Republicans faced a similar internal debate, but ultimately voted in a 102-84 secret ballot to embrace earmarks as long as certain criteria are met.

Republicans' ban on earmarks is one of the last vestiges of the tea party era, and some are reluctant to dispose of the prohibition in the post-Trump GOP. Critics argue that the practice is ripe for abuse and would only lead to “pork-barrel” spending. They also contend that it would be politically unwise to hand Democratic leaders a useful tool to corral gettable Republican votes on major bills, especially given the narrow majorities held by President Joe Biden's party.

But other Republicans contend that they would be at a huge disadvantage if they decided not to earmark while Democrats reaped the rewards of the spending practice. Allowing lawmakers to ensure money for specific projects, those GOP lawmakers say, would restore power to the legislative branch and shift it away from the Biden administration. Earmarks proponents further note that if Republicans don’t want to participate, they don’t have to — lifting the ban would only open up the option for GOP senators, not require them to.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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