Should Congress Bring Back Earmarks?

Marco Green
January 14, 2018

Conservatives long have opposed earmarks, which direct taxpayer money to lawmakers' special interests and projects through the budget without competition based on merit. They came to symbolize corruption and runaway government spending, and critics worry their revival could spark a fresh round of scandals.

"Earmarks are the antithesis of the "drain the swamp" election that sent President Trump to the White House", Schatz said in the statement.

Walker invoked the Apostle Paul to argue against giving lawmakers the "power of the purse" that the Constitution bestows on Congress. They didn't increase overall spending.

"I hear so much about earmarks, the old earmark system, how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks", Trump said during Tuesday's extraordinary 55-minute open-door meeting with a bipartisan collection of lawmakers. "We have to put better controls because it got a little out of hand, but that brings people together".

"I'd be careful about allowing the algae-infested waters that actually fill the swamp back up", Walker said.

Earmarks were banned when the GOP took control of the House in 2010. But it could also reignite the troubled days of the "Bridge to Nowhere" and other earmark battles that divided Republicans and even landed people in prison.

Some lawmakers nonetheless want to revisit the issue, arguing that its their right to determine how federal dollars are spent. To the extent that they even make a modest difference towards making Congress function better, that's just gravy.

Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Fla. and John Culberson, R-Texas, have introduced proposals to revive earmarks on a limited basis. After all, almost a decade ago, Short worked as a senior aide when House Republicans declared that any positive effect that earmarks had in helping pass broad legislative proposals was far outweighed by their corrupting nature. Mr. Ryan said that instead of restoring earmarks outright, the House should study the issue early in 2017. "One way to drain the swamp is to return power to the elected representatives and the people and to not have decisions made by bureaucrats in windowless cubicles".

Trump noted at the White House that Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was nodding along when Trump brought up earmarks. The problem for House leadership is less that the leaders don't have enough tools, but that House Freedom Caucus members and perhaps some other Republicans are more concerned with proving their ideological loyalty than with delivering specific benefits for their districts.

President Donald Trump wants to bring back an old, much-derided practice in Congress, but many lawmakers were wary of the idea on Tuesday. As gridlock has become the norm in spending negotiations, lawmakers have started examining whether to bring earmarks back to help propel legislation forward. He dismissed suggestions that transparency such as real-time reporting would improve conditions. One member (I couldn't tell who) exclaimed: "Sign me up for that". On a 10-point scale, Molly Reynolds of the Brookings Institution and Matt Glassman of Georgetown University both said it would be about a 2 or 3.

That sentiment was also expressed by the leaders of several conservative groups who have been critical of the GOP establishment. "It lends itself to hostility and anger". I think what happened to earmarks among other things was the 'bridge to nowhere, ' you know, insane projects, and I don't think the Senate or the House want to go back to that.

"Earmarks are in moratorium and will stay there", Sessions said.

House Republicans were on the verge of voting to renew earmarks in November 2016 when urged them to hold off. "The objective of the hearing is to hear where we're going, not where we were".

But not all Democrats shared her distaste.

Some top Republicans in Washington - including President Donald Trump - think they've found a cure for dysfunction in the Capitol: Put pork back on the congressional menu. "We got beaten like a borrowed mule in the 2006 elections largely because of the corruption that came with earmarks", Flake said.

"If we pass some kind of transportation bill and we don't have earmarks, the money goes to the Missouri Department of Transportation, and my priorities are not met", Cleaver said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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