The following excerpt was written by Romina Boccia and originally published on the Daily Signal.
Earmarks could be making a comeback.
Before a Republican-led Congress banned earmarks back in 2011, lawmakers used earmarks to send funds directly to specific projects and recipients in their districts. This was more widely known as “pork-barrel spending.”
While in theory there is nothing wrong with Congress being actively involved in specific funding decisions, lawmakers exploited this practice, leading to corruption and wasteful spending. Unfortunately, earmarks have become a tool that Congress can’t be trusted with.
President Donald Trump recently expressed his support for bringing back earmarks, and some members of Congress are considering getting back on board as well.
It’s been only six years since Congress enacted the ban, and many who are voicing support for an earmark comeback seem to have forgotten why banning it was so necessary in the first place.
Here are seven things to remember about earmarks:
1. Earmarks waste taxpayer funds.
The infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” is still the perfect example of earmark waste at its worst.
Back in 2005, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, succeeded at directing a whopping $223 million of taxpayer funds to the construction of a bridge between a small Alaskan town and an even smaller island that housed a local airport.
Alaskans themselves called for the removal of the earmark, recognizing that the hefty funding could be put to better use somewhere else.
That same year, Hurricane Katrina left the southern seaboard in shambles and many Americans felt that in a time of such apparent need, tax dollars shouldn’t have been spent so frivolously.
But strong national outrage wasn’t enough to stop the funding, and the project continued wasting money until 2007 when then-Gov. Sarah Palin put the brakes on the costly project, when costs had reached almost $400 million. The project became the poster child for earmark waste and was officially abandoned in 2015.
2. Earmarks grow out of control.
The use of earmarks caused a snowball effect. Once legislators were given free rein to direct funds wherever they deemed fit, they took advantage.
For example, President Ronald Reagan decided to veto a transportation bill in 1987 because it included too many earmarks. The earmark count was 152 total. In 2005, President W. Bush signed a road bill that contained 6,371 earmarks.
As Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., so aptly stated, “Earmarks are the gateway drug to spending addiction.”
A study by the Congressional Research Service showed that from 1994 to 2011, there was a 282 percent jump in earmarks in appropriations bills. Earmarks increased from 4,155 in 1994 to an enormous 15,887 by 2011.
Instead of throwing earmarked money at their districts, lawmakers should focus on conducting agency and department oversight to ensure that federal funding meets the needs of their constituents.
3. Earmarks encourage corruption.
Back in 2004, Marlowe & Co. owner Howard Marlowe boasted that he had received at least 172 government earmarks for his professional clients. As a for-profit company, Marlowe had no right to be receiving such specialized treatment from the government.
But this is hardly the only instance. Jack Abramoff, a former Washington lobbyist turned convict, was found guilty of bribing lawmakers and White House officials for specific earmarks and other favors for his clientele in the casino and gambling business. This occurred just one year after former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., was sentenced to over eight years in prison for accepting bribes and extravagant gifts from lobbyists in exchange for funding through appropriation earmarks and his vote on certain pieces of legislation.
These notorious lobbying scandals should be reason enough to leave earmarks in the past without a look back.
Tired of worrying about Congress wasting taxpayer money? An Article V Convention of States can propose constitutional amendments that force Congress to be fiscally responsible.