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It’s Time to Bring Back Earmarks

It has been nearly eight years since Congress gave away control over spending. Next January when the new House of Representatives meets to adopt its rules, it can correct that mistake by striking its “temporary” ban on congressionally-directed-funding, or earmarks. Since 2008, Congress has only once passed a few funding bills on time, and the Congressional Civility Rating has accelerated its nosedive. There is no such rating, of course, but you get my point.

Over the past several years, there has been a significant increase in congressional partisan name-calling and rock-throwing.  They don’t even walk from one side of the room to the other to chat.  Earmarks require elected officials to collaborate, something that has been a rarity in Congress.  Bringing back earmarks will also enable Congress to regain the small but significant part of its constitutional “power over the purse” that it handed to the Executive Branch. Let’s look at why the ban on them must be relaxed now.

What’s an earmark?   Congress has the constitutional responsibility of funding all activities of the national government.  Most of that money goes to mandatory programs such as Medicare, Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and the like.  Some is allocated to the various States for highways or other purposes based on formulas prescribed by Federal law or regulations.   Another chunk of money is allocated by law to several hundred grant programs, each of which is administered by a one of the many Federal agencies who solicit and review applications for the funding based on general eligibility criteria set by law or regulation.  Prior to 2011, there was another category amounting to about 1 percent of Federal spending that was appropriated by Congress in annual funding bills to specific programs or projects at the request of one or more Representatives or Senators.  These were earmarks.  Well over half the members of the House were elected after earmarks were banned and likely have no understanding of their importance.  It’s time for them to see how important they were to their constituents and to collaboration among Members of Congress.

The elimination of congressional earmarks didn’t save taxpayers one dollar. It simply moved control over every earmarked dollar from Congress to Federal agencies, all of who are part of the Executive Branch and ultimately responsible to the President.

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