The entire Oklahoma House delegation voted against a bill providing $ 55 million in infrastructure projects in the state, postponing the traditional earmarking process in a bipartisan era.
The INVEST in America Act included nine earmarked applications for Oklahoma projects from three Oklahoma officials – Rep. Tom Cole, R-Norman, Frank Lucas, R-Yukon, and Stephanie Bice, R-OKC – all of which voted against the law.
The bill includes $ 19.9 million in earmarkings from Cole, $ 20 million from Bice, and $ 11.75 million from Lucas.
Transport Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-OR., Said he will not remove a member’s ear tags from the bill just because they don’t vote for it.
This is a change in the Earmark process.
Ear tags were once a way to encourage members to vote for a particular bill; a legislature who normally does not endorse a bill could be persuaded to vote in favor if that bill includes funding for his district. If they didn’t vote for the bill, the ear tag was removed.
“This place has kind of changed in the last 20 years and the normal standards since I arrived in 1994 no longer apply,” Lucas told Punchbowl News on Thursday. “I would say we are in a legislative world where there are no more norms. You play it by ear, we have to work our way through. “
Michael Crespin, director of the Carl Albert Center at the University of Oklahoma, said Lucas was right – politics is now in a bipartisan era where old norms no longer apply.
“When some of the early ‘Earmarks Bring the Other Side’ literature was written, it was at a time when you still had your conservative Democrats and your moderate Republicans and you are trying to get those votes,” Crespin said . “But almost everyone got a little something too, so everyone was for it.”
Now that the members of the Oklahoma delegation are able to in fact leave their ear tags and vote against them without consequence, that process is changing.
“One thing is to think about the bigger picture – historically, there hasn’t been a big split between the two parties,” said Crespin. “So now the people on the minority side who are now Republicans are going to simply vote no on many laws. But they know it will happen because there are enough votes on the majority side. “
With this split, Republicans in deep red Oklahoma can always find something they disagree with in a law, which makes it easier to vote no, he said. With a percentage of the funds in a bill going to the minority party, Oklahoma Republicans know they can still help their voters without casting an unpopular vote, he said.
“It’s always easier to say no because you always find something you don’t like,” said Crespin. “I think they’re doing a great job representing the district by bringing these community projects there – it’s important to the community.
“It’s going to be a bit embarrassing because they come home and do a campaign and point to something and say, ‘Hey, I funded this’ and then someone else will come back and say, ‘Well, you did not vote for it.’ ‘ But they did the job to get the project into the bill and at the end of the day they will still appreciate that. “
While this House bill, which was voted almost on the party line, is unlikely to actually become the final infrastructure package, Cole is confident that Republicans and Democrats can strike a bipartisan deal on infrastructure.
“The process is ongoing, we’ll see how it goes,” Cole told Punchbowl News on Thursday. “I think in the end we will come to a bipartisan deal where not every ear tag will survive … but if they initially survive the committee’s test, they will survive.”