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Should Congress Bring Back Earmarks?


Should Congress Bring Back Earmarks?  

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  1. 1. Should Congress Bring Back Earmarks?



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https://cookpolitical.com/analysis/national/national-politics/can-pork-bring-back-bipartisanship

 

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Earlier this week, Punchbowl News reported that House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and her counterpart in the Senate, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), were going to introduce legislation returning earmarks to the appropriations process. On Tuesday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told his caucus that the move would have bipartisan support. This isn't that much of a surprise. DeLauro and other Democrats were openly talking about getting rid of the 2011 moratorium on earmarks last year. Republicans had even flirted with the idea of returning the earmark back in 2017.

 

The argument for support of earmarks is they are the grease needed to unlock a gridlocked system.  Diana Evans, a political scientist at Trinity College and an expert on pork-barrel spending, puts it this way: "An earmark is money provided for an individual project in an elected official's district, as a way of encouraging that official's vote for a spending bill." Her research has found, for example, that "earmarks helped transportation committee leaders pass three massive highway bills, overcoming significant policy controversies surrounding each bill." Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much these days, but they all like to boast about bringing key projects and dollars to their districts. 

 

But, that 'all politics is local' era when bringing home the bacon was a sure-fire re-election strategy has passed. Instead, all politics — from city council to Congress — is national. There are plenty of reasons for the nationalization of our politics. The death of local media is a big one. When I first started covering Congress, local papers were the only way for members of Congress to reach their constituents. And, there was no better way to get in the local press than by showing up with a bunch of federal money for a key local project. I distinctly remember an interview I had back in the 1998 cycle with Democratic candidate Ronnie Shows, a local official running for an open congressional seat outside of Jackson, Mississippi. When I asked him about his top priority in Congress, he answered, "Four-lane highways." In fact, I recall that was his answer to a lot of the questions I asked him. In an interview with NPR last year, Kansas City, Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver — a 20 year veteran of the House — reminisced about the deals Republicans and Democrats could cut thanks to earmarks. "This used to be a time everybody was hallelujah. I mean, Republicans, Democrats dancing, kissing, you know, just — this was, like, the time to be saved." 

 

Today, members are more interested in getting on cable TV or going viral on YouTube. With so few members sitting in competitive districts (just 16 House members sit in a district carried by the presidential candidate of the other party), the need to show tangible results from working with the other side or voting for a controversial bill is also less important. Even in a primary, boasting about pork doesn't give incumbents the kind of teflon coating it once did. As one GOP consultant said to me after the 2020 elections, "accomplishments have never meant less in a Republican primary." Instead, this person noted, "it is all about conviction and grievance." And, of course, fealty to Trump.

 

But, more importantly, our deep division is driven not by disagreements over policy or process but by the belief that the other side threatens the country's continued existence. A Pew Research poll from October found that "eight-in-ten of those who support Biden (80%) and Trump (77%) say they fundamentally disagree about core values; only about one-in-five say their differences are limited to politics and policies." Almost all Biden and Trump supporters believed that if the other candidate won the election, he would do "lasting harm" to the country. Donald Trump warned his supporters repeatedly that Democrats were intent on destroying America's heritage and values. Democrats boasted of their membership in the "resistance." Getting the appropriations process more streamlined is not going to fix this kind of distrust and disgust. 

 

And then, there is the PR problem. For the last ten years, both sides have recast themselves as plucky outsiders, eager to upend the clubby, self-dealing ways of Washington, DC. Many Republican lawmakers boast of sleeping in their offices to signal that they have not 'gone Washington.' Democrats flex their anti-establishment cred by shunning corporate PAC donations. Even when given a chance to upgrade, most members decline and trudge back to coach. None want to be captured on someone's smartphone sipping chardonnay while reclining their first-class chair.

 

Recognizing the optics problem, write Caitlin Emma and Heather Caygle in POLITICO, "[a]ppropriators hope to recast the politically taboo spending practice of earmarks — which propelled several scandals on Capitol Hill during the early 2000s — as funding for "community projects" in an attempt to break from its reputation as wasteful and secretive. Through the appropriations process, Democrats could fund a limited number of local projects from specific pots of federal cash, while banning money from going to recipients like for-profit businesses." But, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. No matter how many 'guardrails' legislators put around the process, it will still be depicted by opponents as graft. And, voters are more likely to believe any insinuations of abuse. Or, as one Senate staffer told me, "we will all be defined as crooks by the next earmark scandal. Which is inevitable."

 

Congressional old-timers love to blame two things in particular for the death of bipartisanship and comity in Congress: the banning of earmarks, and the shaming of members for bringing their families to live with them in DC. Both were ways to help humanize and normalize business in this town. 

 

But, there aren't that many 'old-timers' left in Congress. In fact, according to CRS Research, the majority of them have been there for eight years or less. Returning to the practice of earmarks won't be a 'return to normal' for them. In fact, for many, it will be a return to the very practices they ran against in the first place. I understand that lawmakers want to find ways to fix our broken legislative process. But, in this nationalized political environment, where the color of a congressperson's jersey matters more than almost anything else about them, it's hard to see earmarks as the right answer.

 

Not sure I'm on board with this, I see both pros and cons.  I'll hang up and listen (for awhile). 

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At least some semblance of bipartisanship would come back. I don't like it as a concept, but in reality/action, it worked to get things done. Factor the removal of earmarks/pork barrel spending alongside social media and hyperpoliticized news outlets, we have this gridlock that became worse. It got even worse after earmarks/pork barrel spending were done away with. 

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Considering things like mmt, the value of loosening the gridlock may be more than we think. 
 

also not all earmarks are wholly bad... lacking support required at the federal level isnt necessity an indicator of something’s merit. 
 

maybe some of the extreme rhetoric is related to idle hands. maybe being busy trying to get things into a moving system will cut down on the bull****. 
 

Maybe reinstate it with a time limit requiring an extension. Like 10 years? 🤷‍♂️ 

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1 hour ago, tshile said:

Considering things like mmt, the value of loosening the gridlock may be more than we think. 
 

also not all earmarks are wholly bad... lacking support required at the federal level isnt necessity an indicator of something’s merit. 
 

maybe some of the extreme rhetoric is related to idle hands. maybe being busy trying to get things into a moving system will cut down on the bull****. 
 

Maybe reinstate it with a time limit requiring an extension. Like 10 years? 🤷‍♂️ 

Sensible points all around.  I hate to look at it this way, but what’s the worst that can happen?  Hard to imagine more gridlock, or more toeing of the Trump/party line by the GOP.  I don’t mean to suggest only good can come of it, but that it’s probably worth seeing if it makes any kind of difference.

 

Dems and non-Trump GOPers are gonna get slammed regardless, maybe having something positive/tangible to point at helps mitigate election concerns?

 

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11 hours ago, tshile said:

Considering things like mmt, the value of loosening the gridlock may be more than we think. 
 

also not all earmarks are wholly bad... lacking support required at the federal level isnt necessity an indicator of something’s merit. 
 

maybe some of the extreme rhetoric is related to idle hands. maybe being busy trying to get things into a moving system will cut down on the bull****. 
 

Maybe reinstate it with a time limit requiring an extension. Like 10 years? 🤷‍♂️ 

 

Yeah, not all pork is bad. My only issue is when it's basically just money being thrown at something for the sake of throwing money at it without any real reason or purpose...especially when it's going to line the pockets of donors. But with tons and tons of pork it's hard to police for stuff like that.

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Yea, I'm on the fence for the reasons mentioned.  The Cook Political article that I posted wraps it up with the sentence: "But, in this nationalized political environment, where the color of a congressperson's jersey matters more than almost anything else about them, it's hard to see earmarks as the right answer."  I disagree with the order of the cause and effect.  Without earmarks, our current political environment incentivizes voters to elect officials like Ted Cruz who are purely partisan culture warriors BECAUSE they have such little ability to actually get things done in Washington. That's why when a disaster struck, Ted was like, "I'm out."  He doesn't see his role as governing or solving problems, he was elected to tweet about how awful socialism would be, and he can do that from a beach in Cancun. 

 

If Texas had the choice between a smarmy unlikable culture warrior like Ted or somebody with the ability to bring home the bacon from Washington, maybe they'd choose the latter.  Some states would choose the latter.  And then at least you'd get people in a room to talk and, who knows, maybe they'd find out that they actually like each other personally and they could build from there. 

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5 minutes ago, PleaseBlitz said:

And then at least you'd get people in a room to talk and, who knows, maybe they'd find out that they actually like each other personally and they could build from there. 

 

There would be the ability to actually do something for the constituents instead of taking things away from them. Your first paragraph hits it pretty good. Like I said earlier, I don't like the idea, but it did prevent gridlock. 

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I'm on the fence about this as well, but I tend to lean towards reintroducing this bit of corruption in our system to grease wheels.  Right now, voters are predominantly given a choice between hyper-partisan or ideological warriors vs moderate governing politicians.  There's very little room for compromise between these factions.  And quite frankly, the moderate politicians really don't have much to take back to their constitutients to show what they did for them when nothing gets done in Congress.

 

If compromise of principles and open exchange of ideas are no longer an option, let's just go back to "okay, I don't want to go on that stupid vacation with your family, but I'll shut up cause I'm getting a new gaming rig out of the deal".  

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2 hours ago, Cooked Crack said:

Bring them back but it won't change the problem of folks being elected not to govern. When you're elected to fight culture wars why would real life benefits matter?

 

I think it would in some cases.  Right now a Senator or even a Rep really can't do much in terms of governing.  They can vote, but they have zero incentive to not vote the party line in the vast majority of cases.  Earmarks incent them to get involved and make a deal to benefit their voters.  The lack of that ability is what drives people to just vote for the loudest, worst, dbag. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Democratic push to revive earmarks divides Republicans

 

Can lawmakers bring home the bacon without it being pork?

 

It’s a question that’s vexing Republicans as they consider whether to join a Democratic push to revive earmarks, the much-maligned practice where lawmakers direct federal spending to a specific project or institution back home. Examples include a new bridge, community library or university research program.

 

Earmarking was linked to corruption in the 2000s, leading to an outcry and their banishment in both the House and Senate. But many in Congress say the ban has gone too far, ceding the “power of the purse” to party leaders and the executive branch and giving lawmakers less incentive to work with members of the other party on major legislation.

 

Democratic appropriators in the House see a solution and are proposing a revamped process allowing lawmakers to submit public requests for “community project funding” in federal spending bills. To guard against graft, the process includes safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest.

 

Whether earmarking becomes bipartisan could have enormous implications not only for the allocation of spending across the country, but for President Joe Biden, who is gearing up for a massive infrastructure push that he hopes will attract significant Republican support. With earmarking in place, bipartisanship could prove easier to achieve, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle could have reason to support bills they would otherwise oppose.

 

“This is a matter of allowing members to serve their own constituents,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “Somebody is going to be making these decisions — and I don’t want to bash federal bureaucrats — but somebody who has never been to my district probably doesn’t know the needs as well as I do.”

 

With Congress having allocated nearly $6 trillion responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, some conservatives are aghast at the prospect of Republicans participating in a Democratic spending spree. They say their party should resist earmarking, not revive it.

 

“This is not the time to fall into the swamp, or into the dark hole of earmarks,” said Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C. “We’ve got to draw a bright line between Republicans and Democrats right now.”

 

Click on the link for the full article

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Hell yes bring back earmarks. It’s not a significant part of the overall budget and it brings back a negotiating tool. To think all GOP members won’t go for this is wrong. Look at the GOP states that have have extended Medicaid. Not all of them, but a some certainly have and that’s all it takes.

 

PS- it’s particularly useful for a massive infrastructure bill.

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https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/17/house-gop-ends-earmark-ban-476696

 

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House Republicans agreed on Wednesday to lift their decade-long ban on earmarks — a major reversal that will enable the GOP to take advantage of a once-controversial spending practice soon to be revived by Democrats.

 

Republicans approved a resolution offered by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) that would allow their members to request a congressional earmark, as long as certain criteria are met. GOP lawmakers would need to publicly disclose the earmark, include a written justification for the project and verify that they have no financial stake in it, among other requirements. The secret-ballot vote was 102-84, according to sources familiar with the count.


Democrats have already announced similar reforms in their plan to bring back earmarks. But with the majority party planning to soon bring back the spending practice, many Republicans felt like they would be at a huge disadvantage if they decided not to participate while Democrats reaped the rewards of the spending practice. Not to mention that Republicans are feeling good about their chances of reclaiming the House majority next year.


Earmark proponents have argued that allowing lawmakers to ensure money for specific projects would restore power to the legislative branch and shift it away from the Biden administration. They also believe a return to earmarks will help make the institution more functional: The practice can be a useful tool for congressional leaders who are trying to corral votes for bills.

 

“I’m a yes,” said veteran Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “With the changes with transparency — it's not the Upton Road to the Upton House, you have support in writing from local units of government — I think that's a fair approach.”

 

The House GOP held a special, two-hour conference meeting last week to debate the topic before Wednesday's vote. Now the pressure is on for the Senate GOP to follow suit.

 

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59 minutes ago, CousinsCowgirl84 said:

What’s another billion to the federal deficit?


1). A boost to an economy that really needs it. 
 

2). And an off topic post. 

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2 hours ago, Larry said:


1). A boost to an economy that really needs it. 
 

2). And an off topic post. 


I don’t think it is an off topic post. Obviously earmarks are spending and more spending means an increase in the deficit. My point is who cares. It’s a drop in the bucket...

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Earmarks aren't necessarily increased spending.  Earmarks are directed spending. 

 

Rep Bunnyhopper won't vote for a $10B infrastructure bill withoit earmarks.  Rep Bunnyhopper will vote for a $10B infrastructure bill with $500M for a road in his district.  

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3 hours ago, Fergasun said:

Earmarks aren't necessarily increased spending.  Earmarks are directed spending. 

 

Rep Bunnyhopper won't vote for a $10B infrastructure bill withoit earmarks.  Rep Bunnyhopper will vote for a $10B infrastructure bill with $500M for a road in his district.  


Exactly. 

An earmark doesn't change a bill from a $500B highway bill, to a $501B highway bill. It changes a $500B highway bill, into a $500B highway bill, where $1B of the 500 will get spent on this particular project. 

The only way it affects the deficit, is if it causes a bill that wouldn't have passed, into a bill that does. 

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