WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday adopted a voluntary ban on pet projects known as earmarks when they take control of the chamber in January from President Barack Obama’s Democrats.
The action came two days after Senate Republicans announced a voluntary ban, prompting Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid to say he would allow a vote on a binding moratorium.
Reid made the offer even though he and lawmakers in both parties have long favored earmarks to deliver a variety of projects to their home states.
Republicans have now forsworn earmarks as they eye large spending cuts in the coming year, when they will control the House and have more clout in the Democratic-led Senate after November’s congressional elections.
“Earmarks have become a symbol of a Congress that has broken faith with the people,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is set to become the chamber’s new speaker in January, replacing Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Boehner, who has long opposed earmarks, said the House ban “shows the American people we are listening and we are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington.”
Although earmarks account for less than one half of a percent of the federal budget, they have become a symbol of wasteful spending for many grassroots “Tea Party” activists who helped Republicans win big in the November 2 elections.
Earmarks have accounted for roughly $16 billion of the $3.5 trillion federal budget in recent years. Reid and other backers say they are a way to ensure that Congress maintains some control over federal spending that otherwise would be managed by government agencies.
Democrats have sought to rein in earmarks in recent years after they factored in several corruption scandals, although they have not backed an outright ban.
An earmark ban could worsen congressional gridlock as they often serve as sweeteners to build support for the large spending bills that are needed to keep the government running, according to Thomas Stratmann, an economics professor at George Mason University.
Republicans reject such talk and have urged President Barack Obama, who favors curbing earmarks, to veto any bill that contains them.
Reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Trott