Earmarks will fix a broken Congress

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Several debates about bringing back earmarks have occurred on Capitol Hill in recent years. But now the House appropriations panel has unveiled the plan to solicit proposals from members for earmarks, or the system of designating federal funds to specific local projects that has been banned for a decade. Earmarks were eliminated back in 2011 by Republicans who won the House amidst the Tea Party movement. They wanted the federal government to tighten the spending. The “bridge to nowhere” for Alaska became the infamous symbol of why earmarks can be wasteful.

While the Tea Party had a role in lighting the fire, it was an internal party decision not to embed earmarks in appropriations. However, it seems all Republicans did not accept this. President Obama also had a significant hand in bringing an end to earnarks by declaring that he would veto any appropriations bill with earmarks, in essence trying to appear as fiscally prudent as the Tea Party. So there is bipartisan blame for the elimination of earmarks. But the reality is that everyone wins with earmarks.

Restoring earmarks will let Congress reclaim the spending authority it has given away to the executive branch. It sets the power of the purse back in the hands of Congress, where it should be, and provides needed funds for district projects that make communities better. Earmarks are a benefit for lawmakers, lobbyists, and voters. Further, earmarks could turn around the inefficient absence of legislative activity in Congress as of late.

Most bills never pass Congress and many are left as ideas in the drafting stage. They often need a majority of support in both chambers, which is nearly impossible with political divisions. Even if any bills could manage through this legislative process, they could die in conference where the Senate and House gather to iron out differences, which is rare.

Democrats have rebranded earmarks as “community project” funds. They detail the plan that would exclude companies for profit, and the available money would be a small slice of appropriations. The fact is that earmarks were less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Congress was established to be the most responsive branch of government, so earmarks assist with federal actions in the national policy areas of health, defense, education, environment, and infrastructure for much of this great country.

The revival of earmarks would benefit both Republicans and Democrats in this era of political divisions. Republicans would score consistent partisan favor with their base, while Democrats would benefit from specific grants and direct payments with an exclusion of the wealthiest firms. Lawmakers who bring home the “pork” would also expose which notable members of Congress are serious about legislating, and which members of Congress would rather focus on themselves with cable news interviews.

People would concur that the institution of Congress is broken. Earmarks can help fix it. They provide transparency and accountability for projects and spending. They will allow Congress to operate not just on the level of grand national policy and government philosophy, where stasis seems to rule, but also on a more impactful local level of desired constituent needs. The opportunity and necessity of doing both can often clear the pathway to breaking partisan gridlock and beating filibuster endeavors.

By federal standards, this process can fix Congress, bolster districts, and bring more dignity to the government relations. The support of earmarks is not about giveaways of bibelots or drinking whiskey at lunch but about restoring trust and getting to the business of legislating for the people. A Congress accountable to federal money for a program to secure a vote is far better than a Congress beholden to special interest money.

Quardricos Driskell is a federal lobbyist and an adjunct professor with the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

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