Senators Warn Against Bringing Back Earmarks

Senators Warn Against Bringing Back Earmarks

© Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

A group of nine Republican senators and one Democrat is pushing back against the potential return of congressional “earmarks,” those spending items or tax and tariff benefits targeted to a specific group, often derided as pork-barrel spending, though the two terms have different meanings.

In a letter sent to Senate leaders on Monday, the group led by Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) write that “members of both parties in both chambers of Congress are actively plotting to revive earmarks, but by some other name.”

Flake earlier this year introduced legislation to permanently outlaw earmarks, which are currently not used as the result of temporary House and Senate moratoriums.

Some lawmakers have suggested that the ban on earmarks has contributed significantly to legislative gridlock and lack of bipartisanship in Congress over the past eight years. And President Trump early this year brought up the idea of bringing back earmarks.

The senators warn that would be a mistake. “Although proponents claim the process can be cleaned-up by simply adding more transparency, history has demonstrated earmarking is inherently corrupt,” they write. “The pay-to-play nature of earmarks encourages the worst behavior and no amount of transparency can fix the inherent unfairness in the earmark process, which favors those with the resources to hire a politically-connected lobbyist rather than those with the greatest need or merit.”

The senators also argue against the idea that a return to earmarks will help fix the broken annual process of passing spending legislation. They write that the fiscal 2019 appropriations process, which resulted in five of the 12 required spending bills being passed on time, demonstrates that earmarks aren’t necessary for Congress to push through appropriations.

Their letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT).