We pride ourselves on saying the difficult things – the type of things that people might be thinking but are too afraid to say. One of those difficult things to say is that we think it may be time for Congress to bring back earmarks.
Yes. You heard us correctly. Give us the pork.
The art of “a favor for a favor” is about as old as Congress itself. And what made Congress work, to some degree, was its ability to allocate money to specific members of Congress for projects within their district. This would accomplish two things. One, it would help the residents within the district (with jobs or money or better infrastructure). And two, it would help secure the loyalty of a rank and file member for the leadership.
Let’s say Congressman Joe Shmoe is uneasy about voting for an expansion of Medicare (or some other controversial bill), but at the same time, his district really needs to improve their local bridges. Leadership will then offer to allow earmarks to be added into bills that sometimes have NOTHING to do with the legislation, in order to secure Congressman Shmoe’s vote for the expansion of Medicare.
Now some people may call this bribery. But hey, it’s how the world works. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Earmarks have been around a long time, but what happened in the 60’s and 70’s is that it began to be used like the example above. By 1998, earmarks accounted for over $18 billion annually. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Plus, it didn’t help when Ted Stevens allocated $20 million for the famous “Bridge to Nowhere”.
Now to be clear, those funds are not NEW funds appropriated by Congress, but rather redirected. But as earmarks ballooned, so did the criticism, as President Clinton, John McCain, and President Obama all opposed earmarks but allowed the process to survive.
But when the House Republicans rode back into power in 2010 on the backs of the Tea Party, whose sole mission was to cut government spending, earmarks became an easy target. In 2011, earmarks were gone. But so was the loyalty of the caucus that came with it, and all proper governing.
Congress began to operate in crisis mode as the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party did not feel obligated to follow the leadership’s wishes. As evidence, the Tea Party nearly forced a government shutdown in the spring of 2011, almost stopped a raise of the debt ceiling that same summer (which resulted in our nations credit rating being dropped), and took the fiscal cliff up until the eleventh hour. They also bucked John Boehner on his “Plan B” idea for the Fiscal Cliff and challenged his Speakership vote this January.
And why shouldn’t they? Those members were sent to Washington to do something very specific – because in their minds, no matter the consequences, they were going to cut government spending. The leadership simply could not keep them in line (and it is up to some debate as to whether Eric Cantor actually WANTS to keep them in line).
So why not explore the possibility of bringing back earmarks? Shouldn’t lawmakers have the ability to improve their districts with money the federal government is just going to spent anyways? And perhaps, just perhaps, these anti-government Tea Party members will finally realize the government spending can actually help.
It is money, after all. Why not put it in the hands of the people in your district?