And some residents of the district may be surprised to learn who one of the main instigators is: Nan Hayworth, the district’s new representative, who was swept into office last fall along with other Tea Party-backed candidates bent on changing Washington’s ways.
Congress, prodded by outspoken newcomers like Ms. Hayworth, this week essentially imposed a temporary ban on earmarks, money for projects that individual lawmakers slip into major Congressional budget bills to cater to local demands. The criticism that she and her colleagues level at earmarking is not new: that some of the projects are silly and the process is rife with waste and abuse, partly because lawmakers do not typically have to justify their requests in grant proposals, hearings and the like.
But the moratorium about to take effect has transformed a largely abstract policy debate in Washington into something very tangible for people in Ms. Hayworth’s district.
Now, civic activists, local officials and residents are scratching their heads, unpersuaded about the soundness of scrapping a system that has provided the district with money for libraries, parks, roads, bridges and the like.
Ken Schmitt, the Republican supervisor of Carmel, supported Ms. Hayworth in her campaign. But he is among many in the district who can point to benefits that earmarks provided his town: nearly $150,000 to buy high-technology cameras for police cruisers in 2009.
“Do I support banning them completely? No, I don’t,” Mr. Schmitt said, adding that each project should be considered on its own merits.
Steve Axinn, the president of Lake Oscawana Civic Association, agreed. “Not all earmarks are the same,” he said. “There are some that are good and some that are clearly abusive. It is the responsibility of our elected representatives to know the difference.”
Mr. Axinn, a lawyer who is registered as a Democrat, knows a good bit about the subject. He was instrumental in persuading Ms. Hayworth’s predecessor, John Hall, a Democrat, to deliver $400,000 in earmark financing to reduce the high levels of phosphorous in Lake Oscawana in Putnam Valley.
“This was a good thing that could not have been done without that grant,” he said.
Ms. Hayworth is unconvinced. “I am not questioning the worthiness of filtering Lake Oscawana,” she said in a recent interview. But, she asked, “Is this a project to which federal tax dollars should be directed, or is this a project another authority should be responsible for?”
While earmarks have aroused controversy in the past, the drive to eliminate them gathered momentum in Congress this year with the arrival of newly elected Republicans like Ms. Hayworth, who campaigned on a platform of belt-tightening, including an explicit pledge to abstain from earmarking.
After Republican leaders of the House approved an earmark ban in that chamber, President Obama promised during his State of the Union address last month to veto any bill that contained spending for what are also called pork-barrel projects.
Initially, Democratic leaders of the Senate resisted following suit. But this week, Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, the Democratic chairman of the Appropriations Committee, announced that the committee would prohibit earmarks over the next two years.
“The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them,” Mr. Inouye said in a statement. “Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.”
On Capitol Hill, though, many lawmakers remain opposed to the ban, including Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, who has long supported overhauling the earmark process and who was among the first lawmakers to place her own requests online.
“It’s shortsighted and misguided,” Ms. Gillibrand said, noting that such money is particularly important these days with local and state governments making cuts.
For all the debate that earmarks stir, the amount of money directed toward them is relatively small. For the fiscal year that ended in September, earmarks made up $15.9 billion of a $3.5 trillion federal budget, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group.
But as political theater, earmarks provide a compelling story line, particularly with Tea Party loyalists like Ms. Hayworth seeking to root out waste and reduce the federal deficit.