There will be no congressional earmarks in appropriations bills for the next two years.  This week, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), announced that for the next two years he will not accept Senators' requests to include earmarks in appropriations bills.  This brought the Senate earmark policy in line with that of the House.  In November, House Republican leadership declared that it will not include earmarks in any legislation in the 112th Congress.  This policy change signals a significant shift for both Sen. Inouye and House Appropriations chair Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), who has stated he will enforce the earmarks ban in the House appropriations process.  They have been have staunch supporters of earmarks in the past, arguing (as have many Members and Senators) that banning congressional earmarking prerogatives cedes too much legislative power to the executive branch.  Critics of earmarks have applied significant political pressure on House and Senate leaders to  ban the process.  President Obama, in his State of the Union Address, promised to veto any bill that contains earmarks.  In his statement, Inouye maintained his support for the congressional right “to direct investments to their states and districts under the fiscally responsible and transparent earmarking process.”  However, he acknowledged that with a presidential veto threat and a House policy to ban earmarks, “it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.” 

According to Inouye, the SAC will review its earmark policy and provide Senators with a “precise definition” of an earmark.  If a Senator submits a request that is considered an earmark under the SAC definition, it will not be accepted.  In the broadest sense, earmarks could be defined as any congressional change to the president’s budget request that provides additional funding for requested or unrequested programs.  In the narrowest sense, an earmark could be considered any change to the president’s budget request that includes funding for a specific contractor or to be spent in a specific congressional district.  Then too, a distinction is often made between earmarks for “for-profit” contractors and those for “not-for-profit” entities and as to whether or not the additional funding contributes to the agency’s mission.  Therefore, how the SAC defines an earmark is very important to how the Senate reviews and acts on the president’s FY2012 budget request.  But, the new Senate procedures alone do not ensure that the earmark issue is settled.  If the House procedures to ban earmarks are different in scope or application than those in the Senate, questions will remain as to how Congress will reach agreement on a final appropriations bill.  Also, it is not certain that the SAC policy will still be in place for the FY2013 congressional budget review.  After a year working under the new procedures, Inouye plans to revisit the policy to determine if it provides a “transparent and fair earmark process that protects our rights as legislators to answer the petitions of our constituents.”