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Cao, two other Republicans ignore House GOP earmark moratorium

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Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La., is one of at least three House Republicans to ignore his caucus's ban on requesting fiscal year 2011 earmarks. Cao requested projects totaling more than  $500 million for his district.

He joins perennial earmarker Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who also requested earmarks despite the Republican moratorium.

Cao was the sole Republican to vote for the original House health care bill in November 2009; at the time, Bloomberg.com characterized him as "the Democratic majority’s most reliable Republican," noting that the freshman Republican won in a district where President Barack Obama garnered more than 75 percent of the vote. Cao defeated incumbent William Jefferson, who had been indicted and was later convicted on bribery charges.

Cao, who was pressured by the Republican leadership to vote the party line on a number of issues, voted against final passage of the health care bill.

He did not toe the line on abstaining from earmark requests.

"This wasn't a surprise to GOP Leadership, but we didn't seek their permission, either," Clayton Hall, Cao's chief of staff, said in an email.

"Congressman Cao disagrees with their decision, and he refuses to stop fighting for projects that will help his district recover from the storms.  We submitted earmark requests and will work with Members on both sides of the aisle to secure money for local education initiatives, storm protection projects, economic development, and to fight crime, among other projects."

A source on the House Appropriations Committee noted that the ban might mean that Democratic members, and not Republicans, would decide which of Cao's requests were funded.

"It's hard to answer because it's unprecedented," the aide said of the current situation, adding that, "It will be up to the majority. In a normal year, the decisions are made by the chair and the ranking member, but this year because [ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.,] supported the moratorium, those requests by Republican members will be made by subcommittee chairs and the committee chair."

Cao might not have to rely solely on the discretion of Democrats. Senate Republicans have not imposed a moratorium on earmark requests. Louisiana's Republican Senator, David Vitter, can also request funds for the freshman Republican's district.