Why Democrats Want to Bring Back Earmarks

Why Democrats Want to Bring Back Earmarks

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wants to restore earmarks as part of Democrats’ effort to “fix government” should the party win control of the House in November.

The use of earmarks — funds for special projects, often decried as pork, that are included in legislation to secure votes — was banned by Republicans in 2011 amid accusations of scandal and waste, perhaps most notably the $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. The ban came despite efforts by Democrats to clean up the earmarks process in 2007.

“Republicans eliminated earmarks altogether, and the result has been an abdication of Congress’ power of the purse,” Hoyer said Wednesday at an event hosted by the political action committee End Citizens United. Hoyer said he would like to return to the rules instituted in 2007, which, among other things, required lawmakers to disclose and explain all earmark requests.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in bringing earmarks back, arguing that they play a vital role in breaking the gridlock seen in Congress in recent years. “From a standpoint of making the House function better and getting votes for things that are unpopular, there is no better tool than an earmark. Republicans, by getting rid of them, injured their ability to move legislative proposals,” Republican lobbyist Sam Geduldig told Roll Call.

Even some conservative Republican lawmakers appear to be interested in the idea. “There were clearly problems with the old system,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said earlier this year. “There’s a case to be made against them, but I think in the end, the case for them is more powerful.” President Trump has also spoken favorably about them, telling a bipartisan group of lawmakers in January, “Maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a form of earmarks.”

The message isn’t likely to play well on the campaign trail this fall, however, and hawkish fiscal groups remain strongly opposed to the idea. “Earmarks are a lazy and unfair way to circumvent the appropriations process,” Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste said in a statement Wednesday. “They have been roundly excoriated by the American people, who have made it clear that they want an end to business as usual in Washington. Earmarks for teapot museums, indoor rainforests, and bridges to nowhere should not be restored; they should be permanently banned.”