Congressional Democrats Are Bringing Back Earmarks

Congressional Democrats Are Bringing Back Earmarks

Reuters/Erin Scott

Democrats are planning to bring earmarks back into the budgeting process, according to a report in Punchbowl News. Sometimes criticized as an enabler of wasteful government spending, earmarks allow lawmakers to designate funds for specific projects and often grease the wheels of dealmaking in Washington, with one lawmaker approving funding for a bridge in, say, Alaska in exchange for a new highway interchange in Illinois. Earmarks were banned in 2011 in an effort led by the wave of tea party supporters who won control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the new leaders of the House and Senate appropriations panels, will announce the return of earmarks in the next few weeks, Punchbowl said. In what may be an effort to reframe the practice and distance it from past corruptions, the earmarks will be referred to as “member-directed spending.”

There will reportedly be limits on spending amounts, with full transparency and a restricted set of potential recipients that includes state and local governments and non-profits.

A good thing? Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein said Tuesday that the return of earmarks is “marginally good news” because they probably make it easier to reach compromises in Congress. They’re also budget neutral, Bernstein said, since they can only direct already appropriated funds to specific projects, not create new funding.

Still, the return of earmarks by whatever name will upset some critics and revive a sometimes unseemly industry in Washington. “This will rejuvenate a whole line of business for lobbying shops,” Punchbowl said. “Appropriations lobbying was once a very lucrative corner of the influence market -- that will come back now.”