Could Earmarks Return?

In January, the two-year moratorium on earmarks will end. Alaska Public Radio (APR) claims that there are those in Congress considering removing the ban or altering it. This is troubling, to say the least.

The reason earmarks were banned in the first place was because they had gotten out of hand, with Congress spending taxpayers funds on bridges to nowhere, indoor rainforests and other such useless projects. The American people were fed up and demanded an end to wasteful spending.

Although earmarks only accounted for a small percentage of the federal budget, knowing that tax money was being frivolously wasted was an outrage. Returning to this practice will be no different.

Of course, even with the ban, Congress has found ways around the ban. Commemorative coins, for example, allow Congress to funnel money back to their districts without taxpayers being billed in a sneaky but legal process that tricks coin collectors into paying markups on coins that aren’t very rare. Congress also likes to declare National fill-in-the-blank Day, which allows industries to market and increase sales because it’s “National Tequila Day” or “National Cancer Awareness Day.”

Prior to the massive expansion in government we’ve seen over the past few decades, Congress frequently earmarked spending for specific projects and detailed how the money would be spent. But as government grew, appropriations bills became broader, giving the Executive Branch the power to delegate how money was spent. Instead of specifying how money would be spent in appropriations bills for the greater good, Congressmen took to trying to get as much money back home to their districts for re-election purposes.

This is how terrible projects were allowed to get funding.

But without earmarks, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has noted, passing big pieces of legislation has become harder:

“It’s made my job a lot more difficult in terms of how to pass important legislation because there’s no grease. I’ve got no – no grease.”

The Alaska Public Radio report reaffirms this notion, which reinforces the argument as to why earmarks should continue to be banned. If a Member will vote for a terrible policy just to get money back to their district, then there’s no reason not to load up every bill with earmarks so everyone will vote for it. Remember how the stimulus had over 8,000 earmarks? Every piece of legislation would be like that, with Congressman finding absurd projects to fund back home and the American people suffering from even more crushing debt and wasteful spending.

When the earmark moratorium is up, it should be extended, because if we can’t afford the path we’re on, increasing wasteful spending will only make it worse.

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