It’s Time for Congress to Bring Back Earmarks

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Not so very long ago conservatives – including yours truly – railed against “pork barrel” earmark spending stuffed into bills before Congress. We held up egregious examples of wasteful spending (I’m sure you folks remember the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska) and spoke about the need to cut down on waste.

The conservatives won that fight. When Republicans took control of the House again in 2011 they instituted a ban on earmarks.

But I think we conservatives won the wrong battle. There’s no indication that the ban on earmarks has made Congress more fiscally responsible to any measurable degree, and there’s a compelling argument to be made that the absence of the earmark process has ceded too much power over spending from lawmakers to bureaucrats and other officials in the executive branch.

Which is why Republicans in Congress are working toward bringing the earmarks back:

House Republicans are about to take the first steps to revive earmarks, with officials planning to hold hearings early this year to look at how they might ease back into the practice, The Washington Times has learned, as a growing number of lawmakers think they have surrendered too much power by forgoing them.

Earmarks are funding for the special projects that lawmakers demand for their districts, often tucked into massive spending bills — directing money back home for bridges and parking garages, Pentagon research or roads and river levees. Supporters call them “targeted spending,” while critics deride the practice as the epitome of pork-barrel politics.

There are no firm plans to restore the practice in the near term, but hearings expected later this month and led by Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, make good on a promise by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, in late 2016 to study the issue.

“The time is right,” said Rep. John Culberson, a Texas Republican who is one of those pushing for a test run of earmarks so Congress can prove it can handle the practice responsibly.

The “test run” Culberson is proposing would allow earmarks on Army Corps flood projects, and it would have rules the previous earmarking process didn’t. It would require that all earmarks begin with a local government request, and that they be included in the bill with the earmark lawmaker’s name attached from the first subcommittee hearing through the floor vote.

In the past earmarks were sometimes dropped into bills at the zero hour, and they could be anonymous.

I like this development. While earmarks have been abused in the past, by eliminating them entirely I think we’ve gone too far. I hardly need to explain to you readers the problems with have with political malpractice in Congress, but at the end of the day Congress does actually need to govern.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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