Republicans Consider Whether to Bring Earmarks Back to Congress
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by Countable | 11.16.16
House Republicans met Wednesday to vote on restoring earmarks in Congress, but House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) stopped the vote so that the new Congress can publicly decide the future of earmarks in early 2017. Earmarks have been banned since Republicans gained control of the House following the 2010 elections.
The vote, which would have included only GOP members of the House and was to be conducted by secret ballot, kicked off a debate over the need for earmarks and whether they conflict with President Elect Donald Trump’s pledge to "drain the swamp" and fight against special interests in politics.
What are earmarks?
Earmarks are included in legislation to direct funding to a specific project that’s located in a state, city, or Congressional district outside of the normal funding process.
They’re sometimes referred to as "pork barrel legislation" because earmarks allow lawmakers to pour cash into each others’ non-essential pet projects to help with their reputations back home, in exchange for support for a broader spending bill. At their peak in the mid-2000s, Congress used earmarks frequently, with 13,997 attached to legislation in 2005. They made up a total of $29 billion in federal funding in 2006.
Why were they banned?
Republicans banned earmarks in 2011 because, frankly, things had gotten out of hand and millions of dollars were getting funneled to projects of little national significance. Perhaps the most infamous earmark is the "Bridge to Nowhere" that would’ve been $398 million project to connect an Alaskan island with a population of 50 people to the mainland. Members of the state’s delegation fought hard for that one, but Congress ended up dropping the earmark. (The island is currently served by a ferry).
Earmarks also proved a temptation too great for some lawmakers. Former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) was sentenced to eight years in prison after accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes related to earmarks he attached to military spending legislation that passed through the committees he sat on.
Why do some lawmakers want them back?
Earmark advocates say that their restoration would take funding authority away from unelected bureaucrats and give some of it back to Congress thereby restoring the legislative branch’s constitutional responsibility for budgeting. Proponents have also argued that bringing back earmarks could help lawmakers gain the support needed to pass all twelve, individual federal funding bills (which they haven’t been able to do in years) rather than relying on last-minute, massive omnibus spending packages that no one has time to read or continuing resolutions that kick the can down the road.
The three Republicans who have introduced this proposal — Reps. John Culberson (TX), Mike Rogers (AL), and Tom Rooney (FL) — believe that by only allowing earmarks that are introduced early in the funding process (before a bill is passed out of a subcommittee), they can bring more transparency to the process than existed before the ban.
Sources have told Politico that it’s unlikely the GOP will allow their restoration even next year, particularly given that Republicans rejected a similar proposal two years ago.
— Eric Revell
Photo by Gage Skidmore
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