Fleischmann tops Congressional earmarks list with Chickamauga Lock

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Rep. Chuck Fleischmann speaks at the Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River in 2021.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Rep. Chuck Fleischmann speaks at the Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River in 2021.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Southeast Tennessee, tops a new ranking of lawmakers availing themselves of the most Congressional earmarks.

Fleischmann, Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee chair, secured $273.3 million, mostly for the Army Corps of Engineers' Chickamauga Lock project in Chattanooga that backers say is integral to the state's economy.

House Republicans dominate the rankings, so much so that the top Democratic recipient doesn't even appear in the top 60 among lawmakers in that chamber.

In their first year in the majority since Congress in 2021 brought back the practice Republicans banned a decade earlier, GOP lawmakers are spreading nearly $7.4 billion among 4,714 individual projects tucked inside the fiscal 2024 appropriations bills.

While Democrats requested 65 percent of those earmarks, they are receiving less than 38 percent of the dollars at nearly $2.8 billion, a CQ Roll Call analysis found.

Republicans argue that's only fair; Democrats gave themselves roughly the same percentage when they were in charge. But Democrats allowed Republicans the largest individual hauls in that chamber last year, and eight out of the top 10 earmarkers in initial fiscal 2023 bills were GOP members.

In the GOP's fiscal 2024 bills, the first Democrat to appear is at No. 64 — Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Ill., a freshman in her party's Frontline program for endangered members.

Twenty out of the top 30 in terms of dollars secured are either members of the Appropriations Committee, other full committee chairs or members of the GOP leadership.

Ten are Appropriations "cardinals," or subcommittee chairs, like Flsiechmann. The two remaining cardinals still pulled in more than Budzinski.

Other top recipients include No. 2 Randy Weber of Texas — last year's No. 1 — followed by Rick Crawford of Arkansas.

Garret Graves of Louisiana, head of the Elected Leadership Committee and a top ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and spending critic Matt Gaetz of Florida — a Freedom Caucus member whose initial opposition to McCarthy almost tanked the Californian's speakership bid — round out the top 15.

Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., a Freedom Caucus member who two years ago signed a "no earmarks" pledge, is No. 20, at $42.9 million; Ben Cline, R-Va., another Freedom Caucus appropriator, is No. 24 with $42 million.

The fifth-ranking House Republican and chairman of the party's campaign committee, Richard Hudson of North Carolina, is also the fifth most prolific earmarker in the chamber, with $97 million for two Fort Bragg construction projects.

Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., is 28th on the list at $40.2 million. His chief deputy, appropriator Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., secured $60.9 million, good for 11th place.

GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York is 49th, with $28.9 million. Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., is down at No. 90, with $22.1 million.

McCarthy doesn't request earmarks.

There are only three Democrats in the top 100: Budzinski, fellow Illinois freshman Frontliner Eric Sorensen, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who's running for Houston mayor. Sorensen and Jackson Lee each secured around $25 million.

Budzinski's and Sorensen's totals include proportional shares of a bipartisan $75 million Army Corps earmark for Upper Mississippi River construction; the other three requesting lawmakers are GOP Reps. Sam Graves and Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Darin LaHood of Illinois. Jackson Lee's total includes a $24.8 million joint request with Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, for Houston Ship Channel expansion.

That means no Democrat cracked the top 100 without teaming up with Republicans.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., is at No. 119, with $17.9 million.


Vulnerable members

Republicans have sought accommodations for vulnerable members on their side. The lone exception is embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who's been shut out of his entire $36.3 million list of earmark requests.

Other GOP lawmakers with races rated Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales that are in the top one-third of House earmarkers include New Yorkers Mike Lawler, Brandon Williams and Anthony D'Esposito, California's Mike Garcia and John Duarte, New Jersey's Thomas H. Kean Jr. and Oregon's Lori Chavez-DeRemer.

Those in the top third who have slightly better odds but are ranked Tilt Republican to signify tough races include California's David Valadao, an appropriator who's No. 13 overall with $53.4 million, as well as Michigan's John James, New York's Marc Molinaro, Arizona's Juan Ciscomani and Iowa's Zach Nunn.

Another handful in the top echelon represent districts considered Lean Republican, or safer but not out of the woods. They include Defense Appropriations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., No. 19 overall with $44.9 million, Nebraska's Don Bacon, California's Michelle Steel, Monica De La Cruz of Texas and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

Boebert, another Freedom Caucus member who signed the "no earmarks" pledge, won her 2022 race by just 546 votes. She's likely headed for a rematch against Democrat Adam Frisch, who's trounced Boebert's fundraising so far in the cycle; the Cook Political Report on Thursday moved the race into the Toss-up category.

CQ Roll Call's analysis allocated joint requests proportionally to each sponsor. Nonvoting members, including the five delegates and Puerto Rico's resident commissioner, are also represented in the totals, which include 217 Democrats and 153 Republicans.

Only one Democrat hasn't asked for earmarks: California's Katie Porter, who's running to replace retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Two of Porter's opponents in the race, Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Adam B. Schiff got $15.9 million and $12.3 million respectively. Schiff secured earmarks despite being censured recently by the House GOP.

On the GOP side, nearly one-third of lawmakers aren't seeking earmarks. As a result of Republicans having more money to spread around to fewer members, the average GOP-sponsored project is above $2.7 million, while individual House Democratic earmarks typically end up being less than $900,000.


Unusual amounts

Republican appropriators appear to have taken pains to adhere to the split party leaders mandated.

Certain unusually specific amounts appear repeatedly in some of the bills: $963,000 for numerous Democratic projects sprinkled throughout the Commerce-Justice-Science bill; ditto for $959,752 in the Interior-Environment measure — or in other cases, $959,757.

The largest single earmark for a Democrat-only request is $7.2 million that Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, secured in the Military Construction-VA bill for a training barracks at Fort Bliss in El Paso.

Numerous GOP-only earmarks ranged into the tens of millions and some even in the hundreds of millions, the largest being Fleischmann's $236.8 million for Chickamauga Lock. Two other Army Corps projects, sought by Weber and Crawford respectively, top $100 million.

Appropriations cardinals are well represented among the most successful earmarkers. After Fleischmann at No. 1, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the Rules Committee chairman and leader of the Transportation-HUD panel, is fourth overall at $106 million in project funds.

The sixth- through eighth-ranked earmarkers are Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.; Interior-Environment Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; and Military Construction-VA Subcommittee Chairman John Carter, R-Texas, in that order. Calvert and Harris round out the top 20.

The cardinals also in some cases dominate the ranks of biggest earmarkers within their respective bills.

Fleischmann's lock is easily enough to put him atop his Energy-Water bill. Cole secured nearly $83 million in the Transportation-HUD bill, far and away the most in that measure, the most prolific overall by far with nearly $4 billion in total earmarks. Rogers has the most earmark money in the Commerce-Justice-Science measure; ditto for Harris in Agriculture.

This year's crop of House bills has $880 million less project funding than was included in last year's versions, a nearly 11 percent drop, thanks to narrower eligibility rules GOP leaders instituted.

That significantly outpaces the overall 1 percent funding cut House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, incorporated into the fiscal 2024 bills, and it's proportionally deeper even than the 8 percent cut conservatives want. But it's not yet clear whether earmarks will be spared as GOP leaders are moving towards slashing the spending bills further to appease conservatives ahead of floor debate.

Among the changes: no more Labor-HHS-Education earmarks, a popular go-to in years past, and Financial Services and Defense projects were scrapped too. Earmarks have to have a "federal nexus" or previously authorized purpose.

In addition to cutting back on spending, the changes in part were designed to weed out "woke" Democratic priorities, Republicans have said. During the July 18 Transportation-HUD markup, Republicans axed three earmarks for LGBTQ-related beneficiaries that made it through the earlier vetting, drawing Democratic accusations of bigotry.

Still, the massive "THUD" measure remains more equitable to Democrats than other bills by giving them 45 percent of project funds to the GOP's 55 percent.

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