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Daniel Horowitz: A GOP Vote to End 2010 ‘Earmarks’ Reform Would Boost Big Government

GOP legislators in Congress may revive the use of spending “earmarks” which help leaders and legislators trade votes in exchange for pork-barrel spending in their districts, says a report from the Heritage Foundation. 

The use of earmarks was banned in a 2010 spending reform imposed by former House Speaker John Boehner. But GOP legislators may decide in a secret vote on Wednesday whether to revive earmarks. According to Heritage’s publication, The Daily Signal:

Reps. John Culberson of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, and Tom Rooney of Florida are listed as sponsors of the amendment, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Signal.

The earmark term is jargon for the practice of steering taxpayers’ dollars into a legislator’s home district, for example, the construction of a new bridge.

Without earmarking, the money is appropriated to programs that are run by federal agencies, which then have some ability to steer the funds to the highest priority, and to make companies bid for contracts. For example, a federal or state transportation agency might calculate that the construction funds which a legislator wants for his home-district bridge would be better spent building a road elsewhere. 

“The problem of earmarking goes far beyond the actual pork projects set aside for a specific politician,” said Dan Horowitz, the editor of Conservative Review.

The problem is that the GOP leadership will use earmarks to bribe and threaten unwilling legislators to follow the leaders on big issues, such as increasing the nation’s debt or boosting overall spending, said Horowitz, editor of Conservative Review and author of Stolen Sovereignty: How to Stop Unelected Judges from Transforming America.

“The problem is not about the relatively low cost of a single earmark,” he said.

It’s about the $500,000 earmark that is used to buy off a conservative vote for a $1 trillion omnibus, farm bill, bailout, or some other terrible transformational legislation.  The earmarks are used as the magic “grease” to garner majority support for big-government legislation.  Once we reinstate the practice of earmarking, we will never be able to mobilize a majority within the conference to oppose any big-government legislation.  Most of them will be seduced into supporting bad legislation through personal earmarks for their districts.  This is the “multiplying factor” of earmarks.  Throw in a personal perk for each district, and you can get a majority of the House to vote for anything.

The earmark process can be also used by top leaders to win political goals that are strongly opposed by voters, Horowitz warned.

It’s not just fiscal issues either.  Say they’d want to pass an expansive immigration bill or legislation empowering judges to reduce sentences for criminals.  GOP leaders could [use earmarks to] buy off members one by one, who would otherwise be circumspect of the legislation, simply because they want the bragging rights of bringing home a project to their districts.

When he was a Senator, Jim DeMint, now the president of the Heritage Foundation, prodded and pushed his Senate peers to bar earmarks. “This was an enduring legacy of Jim DeMint,” Horowitz said.  “And it has made it easier for us to stop all sorts of bad legislation.”

One way to fix the problem of earmarks is to move spending decisions out of Washington, Horowitz said. “We need to give the responsibility and revenue for surface transportation back to the states,” he said. “This will obviate the need for earmarks and make the system much more efficient.  If you want to satisfy the local transportation needs, you allow the states to craft their own highway policies.”

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