Securing Backdoor for Earmarks?

This week, senators introduced a massive water and infrastructure bill (sub. req’d) that calls for changes in spending in deepwater harbors and speeds up project construction.  According to reports, it will allow for “new projects in a way that doesn’t run afoul of Capitol Hill’s earmark ban.”  It may, however, “offer room for earmarks.”

The draft Water Resources Development Act appears to provide a relief valve for lawmakers anxious to get new projects into the pipeline by creating an umbrella authorization for projects that meet certain criteria.

Any project carried out in accordance with a plan as well as any criteria the Army Corps of Engineers requires would be considered authorized as long as a Chief of Engineers report has been completed and the corps has referred it to Congress by the date the bill is enacted, according to the draft.

That stands in contrast to the usual WRDA bill, which contains lists of specific projects for authorization contributed by lawmakers. It’s not necessarily a done deal — the projects would still have to be funded through the appropriations process.

This isn’t exactly straightforward, but it does demonstrate some desire remains for member directed spending.  It wouldn’t be the first time that lawmakers have tried to circumvent the earmark ban.  Earmarks engender corruption and cronyism in lawmakers.

There is a direct correlation between more earmarks and more federal spending, which is intuitive but has also been indicated by research produced by the Office of Management and Budget.

Heritage Action will continue to monitor the bill as it moves through Congress to ensure it doesn’t open up a backdoor for earmarks.
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2 thoughts on “Securing Backdoor for Earmarks?

  1. I would very much like to have a discussion with you regarding earmarks. There may be some sides to the issues that escape you. Congress threw the baby out with the bathwater when it invoked a moratorium. With oversight and ‘sunshine’ the earmark program provided many useful projects for cities, counties, and regional institutions that would not have made the cut-line. Government can work with the proper level of oversight by the public and a bit of honor by elected officials and civil servants alike.

  2. The only way for the Army Corps of Engineers to work on a federal water project is for it to be authorized in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Despite the fact that an authorization does not obligate a single penny towards a project, Congress has chosen to apply the earmark moratorium to the authorization process for the sake of appearances. The Army Corps still has to be able to construct projects that are vital to our nation regardless of the earmark moratorium, but has been unable to do so because of the inability of Congress to authorize specific projects deemed worthy by the committees of jurisdiction. Without authorizing projects, the Army Corps is unable to expend a single dollar towards the dredging of our ports so that our country can send/receive ships carrying goods to consumers. We currently have to sail smaller vessels out into deeper waters to load and unload the large ships that are unable to dock in our shallow ports. This increases the cost of transporting goods. These costs are passed onto the consumer. This is ridiculous. If Congress would simply authorize legitimate projects in this WRDA bill, the public would know which projects will be funded in the future (because they would be clearly written into the law). Now, because of the earmark moratorium and the ongoing need for projects to be authorized, the President and his Administration will get to choose what projects are authorized and later funded without Congressional oversight. How is this system better?

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