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WASHINGTON — When members of Congress passed a $1.7 trillion spending bill last week to fund the government for most of 2023, they included more than $15 billion in funds directed to specific projects in communities across the country, including more than $464 million to Washington, according to disclosures from appropriators.
Many Republicans who voted against the full spending package, including those who represent central and Eastern Washington in the House, nevertheless chose to request so-called earmarks for their constituents, arguing the process gives local communities more say in how their federal tax dollars are spent. But for the second time in as many years, all three lawmakers who represent North Idaho in the House and Senate opted out of the process, saying the projects are an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.
Funding for several Eastern Washington projects was requested by members of both parties in both the House and Senate. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, joined with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Washington Democrats, to secure $5 million for a study by the Upper Columbia United Tribes aimed at boosting salmon populations. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, worked with Murray and McMorris Rodgers to get nearly $3.9 million to replace the Sackman Road Bridge near Odessa.
“I am incredibly proud that these federal dollars are going make a huge difference for people in Eastern Washington by investing in local priorities like child care for our workforce, safer roads and bridges, and recovering our salmon populations,” Murray, who will lead the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2023, said in a statement. “This funding is great news for Spokane and all of Eastern Washington.”
After Republicans banned earmarks following the 2010 election in response to high-profile corruption cases tied to the practice, Democrats in control of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees brought them back in 2021 with new transparency rules aimed at avoiding the scandals of the past. Many Republicans still oppose the funding, which is capped at 1% of Congress’s total discretionary spending, but the incoming House GOP majority on Nov. 30 voted down a proposal to ban earmarks, suggesting most Republicans see the upside in directing federal dollars to their constituents.
In Idaho’s 2nd congressional district, which covers most of Boise and the state’s eastern half, GOP Rep. Mike Simpson secured $36.8 million for 14 projects, ranging from $5.7 million for a railroad underpass in Pocatello to $813,750 for a fire station in McCammon. Simpson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, worked to include that funding in the bill before ultimately voting against it.
“While there are plenty of individual provisions of this bill that I support, the positives did not outweigh the tremendous cost of the total package, and the irresponsible 11th hour gimmicks thrown in by Democrats to hide the true cost of the package,” Simpson said in a statement, while applauding the inclusion of the earmarks he requested.
Rep. Russ Fulcher, whose district includes North Idaho, and the Gem State’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, opposed the earmark process — formally called community project funding in the House and congressionally-directed spending in the Senate. As a result of the three Republicans’ stance, the Panhandle received none of the roughly $15 billion Congress set aside for more than 7,200 projects across the country.
Crapo, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, criticized the process Congress has increasingly relied on to fund all federal programs through a single annual bill, which is often stuffed with unrelated legislation.
“Instead of moving forward with individual spending bills to allow members of Congress to separate good policy from bad, we are once again having to vote on a single bill that will unfortunately add to our unsustainable debt crisis,” Crapo said in a statement. “This behemoth funding package will only add fuel to the current inflationary fire. It is past time to rein in reckless, unnecessary government spending and get our fiscal house in order.”
McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse, like most of their fellow Republicans, voted against the final bill but worked to direct millions of federal dollars to their districts.
According to disclosures from the Senate Appropriations Committee, McMorris Rodgers secured a total of $31.9 million for 14 projects, including some she requested along with Newhouse, Cantwell and Murray. Those projects include $1.3 million for the Spokane Police Department to improve its technology, $500,000 for a new helicopter for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and another $500,000 to support domestic violence services at Spokane Municipal Court.
Newhouse directed $26.4 million to 11 projects in his central Washington district, including some he requested along with McMorris Rodgers, Murray, Cantwell and Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat whose district stretches from Wenatchee to the Seattle suburbs. Those projects include $5 million for a new airport terminal in Yakima to $667,000 for a new water main in Winthrop.
Cantwell helped secure a total of $13.9 million for six projects in Eastern Washington, including $2.65 million to revamp the Sullivan and Trent interchange in Spokane Valley and $750,000 to relocate Walla Walla’s emergency operations center, which sits in a floodplain.
Murray, the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and soon to be the panel’s leader, helped direct a total of $284 million in earmarks for Washington state. Those projects include $15.3 million to construct new facilities at Fairchild Air Force Base and $1.9 million for Malden to build a municipal sewer system, part of the town’s effort to rebuild after a 2020 wildfire.
Orion Donovan-Smith’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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