The leader of Heritage Action, the political wing of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, is putting Capitol Hill conservatives and its own network activists on alert about a possible plan by House Republican leadership to bring back legislative earmarks.
“Any attempt to roll back the longstanding ban on congressional earmarks — the lubricant that empowers politicians to cut bad deals — would amount to a rebuke of those voters,” says Michael Needham, the chief executive officer of Heritage Action.
Wednesday, the House Republican Conference meets to vote on the rules for the next session of Congress beginning in January.
Earmarks are the Capitol Hill slang for the practice of tagging legislation, particularly spending measures, with direct instructions for a government agency.
An example would be if in a funding bill for swimming pools for senior citizen centers, a congressman put in language that directed the agency in charge of the pools to built a pool in his hometown across the street from his parents. Earmarks were the stock and trade of congressional leaders in both houses and both parties, but in the last decade, they became a symbol of flagrant spending and corruption.
Speaker of the House John Boehner made the abolition of earmarks one of his personal agenda items when he first entered Congress in 1991 and before his 2015 retirement from Congress, he claimed victory.
In a 2008 speech to the National Urban League’s annual legislative policy conference, Boehner said:
The Democrat-controlled Congress last December slashed funding for the bipartisan Reading First initiative from $1 billion to $393 million. At the same time, Congress spent billions of taxpayer dollars on earmarks requested by Members of Congress for their congressional districts, even endorsing construction of a taxpayer-funded “hippie museum” in Woodstock, NY at the request of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).
Needham says, “Americans in both parties are fed up with the cronyism and corruption in Washington, and seven days ago they delivered a stunning message to the nation’s ruling class.”
Earmarks are more than a symbol, he said.
“Americans deserve an honest, transparent government that is working for everyone, not simply doling out favors to a well connected few.”