Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters Tuesday that Democrats plan to re-introduce earmarks, a practice through which individual members of Congress attach request special funding requests to bills.
Earmarks have long been criticized as “pork” because they are wasteful and prone to corruption, allowing incumbents to buy political support by using the federal budget to appease or reward favored contributors and political constituents.
Legislators also used earmarks to buy support for controversial legislation, using the practice to cobble together bipartisan coalitions.
Republicans led the effort to ban earmarks a decade ago. The late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), long a critic of waste and corruption in government, called for earmarks to be banned, and the Tea Party movement embraced the idea.
President Barack Obama initially defended earmarks, saying, “Pork is in the eye of the beholder.” But he joined the bandwagon, over the objections of Democrats in Congress, and earmarks were eventually eliminated in 2011. Proponents of transparency cheered, but some legislators grumbled that they had lost a way to fight for their states or their districts.
After winning the presidency on a promise to “drain the swamp,” President Donald Trump surprised observers by proposing that Congress bring back earmarks as a way to increase bipartisanship.
The Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, agreed, arguing: “When earmarks are banned, the result is not to eliminate preferential or politically motivated spending. Instead, the power of the purse migrates to bureaucrats and appointees in the federal agencies, formulas in entitlement programs, and hacks in the White House.”
Some Democrats also claim that their new earmarks will only apply to nonprofit and public sector projects, but those earmarks are often just as corrupt, given the blurred lines between political interests and public charity.
Regardless, there could be political costs. The Washington Times notes: The issue is so politically sensitive that some lawmakers are loath to even say the word “earmark” — instead calling the practice “congressionally directed spending.”
Some member of Congress will oppose the restoration of earmarks. The Times quoted Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) as saying that they never really worked, and adding that Democrats preferred earmarks because they love spending of almost any kind. “[Democrats] like to spend money like it was ditchwater. … This is all borrowed money we’re spending.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.