Bringing back earmarks will add more dysfunction to failed appropriations process


As earmarks are poised to make a comeback, there’s no shortage of high-profile reminders about why Americans and Congress soured on them more than a decade ago.

Remember the $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska? That was an earmark. What about half a million dollars for a teapot museum in North Carolina? Or $3.4 million to build a tunnel for turtles in Florida? Those were also earmarks.

In fact, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, over $375 billion in taxpayer funds have been earmarked to pet projects since 1991, usually to the benefit of a single state or congressional district. While wasteful spending certainly needs to be exposed, there’s more in this debate to be considered than just earmarks themselves.

The larger issue is that our entire appropriations process has devolved into a national embarrassment. If Congress were doing its job, we’d be spending much of the spring and summer months focused on appropriations. After all, the Constitution lays this responsibility squarely at the feet of Congress.

However, instead of accomplishing this through regular order, an odd combination of procrastination and political laziness is now the norm. Congress has become known for passing chains of continuing resolutions and when that doesn’t work, the occasional federal government shutdown.

But the worst is the annual holiday tradition of hastily bundling together a multi-thousand-page omnibus that nobody has time to read. Usually a vote is rushed through leaving just enough time for members to get home for Christmas.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Congress has walked away from much of its responsibility when it comes to how our tax dollars are spent. On thousands of occasions, we have abdicated our “power of the purse” by opting to send countless billions to federal agencies and empowering their unelected bureaucrats to determine how the funds should be used.

That’s not the way it should work. What we desperately need is a return to regular order, where appropriations bills are carefully crafted, hashed out in committee, and given the public attention they deserve.

Meanwhile, an earmark is when tax dollars are sent to a specific pet project, typically at the request of a single member of Congress. To argue the necessity of earmarks is to acknowledge that Congress can and should be more directly involved with how taxpayer dollars are used. If that’s the case, then why not go back to regular order where we debate and amend appropriations bills on the floor of the House? Yes, this process takes months, and we’re on the House floor until late multiple days a week, but that’s our job, and it’s why we were sent to Washington, D.C. There is no reason why rank-and-file members of Congress should be this disconnected from our appropriations process.

Even if certain earmarks are a responsible and appropriate use of public funds, regular order is the only way to properly evaluate those member-directed requests and make them as transparent as possible. Any effort to lift the ban on earmarks without a return to regular order is ripe for the same type of exploitation we had in years past.

Recently, I sponsored H.R. 1086 that would prohibit the House of Representatives from considering any legislation containing an earmark, and I’m honored this effort has the support of FreedomWorks, Heritage Action, the National Taxpayers Union, and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste. I will continue to oppose earmarks until regular order is restored.

Congress has saddled our nation with almost $28 trillion in debt. Until we are committed to returning to regular order and a balanced budget, Congress has no business allowing earmarks to further complicate our totally dysfunctional appropriations process.

Norman represents South Carolina’s 5th District.

Tags budget deficit Debt earmarks Pork barrel spending

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