The House Appropriations Committee has taken a more subtle approach. Instead of its old habit of soliciting earmarks, it now asks members to provide “programmatic requests” ahead of subcommittee markups.
In a May 3 “Dear Colleague” letter, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, set out guidelines for House members making programmatic requests. He suggested that since earmarks will not be considered, members should consult prior earmark disclosure statements to “assist in making a determination as to whether the subcommittee has considered a particular item an earmark.”
First introduced as an earmark and continued as such year after year, it is now considered a program — even though the administration does not request it. Therefore, any congressional request that it be continued is a programmatic request. Get it?
You see the effect best in the House Appropriations Committee report on the fiscal 2012 Defense Appropriations Bill released last week. The panel added $523.5 million in medical research and development money for 22 programs in addition to the $663.7 million for medical research through the Defense Department that the Obama administration had requested.
One of those added programs was $3.2 million for Bone Marrow Failure Disease research. Last month, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) sent a letter to colleagues seeking support for the program that had first been earmarked in 2008. In boldface type it said: “The Bone Marrow Failure Disease Program is not an earmark. This request will be considered programmatic.”
She also noted that “recent anecdotal data indicate that members of the armed services who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan may have been exposed to environmental factors associated with these fatal diseases.”
Another program on the committee-approved list is $5.1 million for Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research. On May 2, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) sent an electronic message to her House colleagues. Labeled “This is a Programmatic Request,” it asked members to support “a continuation of funding” for the research in the fiscal 2012 defense budget, saying that since 2002, about $35.9 million had been spent through this program. No connection to the military was mentioned.
As I wrote in March, Congress for almost 20 years has put these medical research funds in the Defense Department budget that have never been requested in a presidential budget. Although generally meritorious, many earmarked programs for research fall outside the Pentagon’s traditional mission of battlefield medicine and research.