U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and public affairs advocate Ron Whitlock. Cuellar spoke about the possible reintroduction of earmarks in congressional spending bills following a question about federal funding for the South Padre Island second causeway project by Whitlock.

MISSION, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says House Democrats could reintroduce earmarks in January, something the Laredo Democrat would support.

According to Wikipedia, an earmark is a provision inserted into a discretionary spending appropriations bill that a dieters funds to a specific recipient while documenting the merit-based or competitive funds allocation process. Republicans banned them in 2011.

“We cannot earmark but I am hoping the in January, we the Democrats are going to put back what our Republican friends took away from us. We are hoping that we can get earmarks back,” Cuellar said.

“If we can get earmarks back, I can say, the Mission Public Library is going to get X amount of dollars, that McMullen County Community Center is going to get X amount of dollars. I hope we can get this back in January because I can get on Appropriations and I can do certain efforts.”

Cuellar sits on the House Committee on Appropriations. He said at the moment he can push for funds to go towards a specific project but the ultimate decision is left to a bureaucrat in Washington.

“Rather than let a bureaucrat in Washington decide what is better for Mission I can come in and specifically put monies in every city, especially rural areas and the smaller communities. Those are the areas that need a lot of assistance.”

Cuellar was speaking in a Q&A with reporters following a news conference at the Center for Education and Economic Development in Mission. He was accompanied at the news conference by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen. Hinojosa is also an appropriator, but at the state level. He is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.

“Hopefully in January we will change the rules and you will see something else, I will be as strong as Chuy Hinojosa,” Cuellar joked.

Cuellar brought up the question of earmarks in response to a question from Ron Whitlock, of Ron Whitlock Reports. Whitlock wanted to know when a second causeway to South Padre Island was going to be built and whether, as a member of the appropriations committee, Cuellar could help get funding for the project.

Cuellar said funding for a second causeway would likely come through a highway bill. He noted that the House has passed a highway bill but the Senate not.

“The Senate has not done their part. We are waiting on that. We did a one year extension on that,” Cuellar said. “Texas gets over $3 billion. We need to do a lot more on that. There were two major transportation issues that we passed in the House. One was the highway bill, the other was for water projects. That passed with no opposition. I think it will pass the Senate.”

Cuellar said Congress would have to add additional dollars to the highway bill in order for funding to be available for a second SPI causeway. With earmarks, though, it would be easier to specify which projects received funds, he added.

Sen. Hinojosa also responded to Whitlock’s question. He said: “The second causeway for South Padre Island has been cleared for environmental purposes. The Cameron County RMA is working closely with South Padre Island and the state. So, we are in favor of that. But, obviously it is very sensitive area with sanctuaries… we have to be very careful and cautious the way we move forward.”

Hinojosa added: “It (the second causeway project) is still moving forward but it is not as fast as other projects. For example, we were able to secure $300 million to replace the Pharr Interchange. That is through TxDOT, with funding from the state government and federal government. It is far easier to deal with the Pharr Interchange than the second causeway to South Padre Island.”

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