The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Surprising Republican Support for the Return of Earmarks

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


During a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting on November 14, 2014, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) proposed reinstituting earmarks for “state, locality (including county and city governments), or a public utility or other public entity.”  His effort had startlingly significant amount of support in the Republican caucus: the proposal was defeated by a vote of 145-67.  Rep. Rogers’ act netted him the dubious honor of being named Citizen Against Government Waste (CAGW)’s “Porker of the Month” for November 2014.  Rep. Rogers is a repeat offender, also earning the award in April 2012, after his first failed attempt to end the earmark ban on March 30, 2012.

The widespread Republican support for Rep. Rogers’ motion is a stark contrast to the results of the November elections, when the party took over the Senate and strengthened its hold on the House of Representatives in part because of a desire among the populace to reduce spending and the size of government. 

Rep. Rogers justified his persistent campaign to lift the ban by claiming that it transfers too much power over spending decisions to the executive branch.  In 2012, during a similar Republican conference meeting, Rep. Rogers reportedly complained that Congress couldn’t get anything done without earmarks and urged his Republican colleagues to lift the ban.

Rep. Rogers is wrong on both counts.  Congress can change any law at any time and pass spending bills that reflect members’ priorities.  Earmarks never accounted for more than one percent of federal spending; the other 99 percent is spent by agencies according to the statutory authority provided by Congress.

Earmarks do not lead to reduced spending; they simply allow pork-addicted members of Congress to grease the skids for even bigger, more wasteful legislative vehicles.  Indeed, spending has dropped since the end of the earmark ban.

As has long been the case, earmarks remain one of the few bipartisan causes.  In the past year, Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) have all argued for a return to an earmarking system.

Earmarks have long been a currency of corruption.  Advocates for their return have apparently forgotten that earmarking led to the incarceration of members, staff, and lobbyists who used the process to buy votes.  Former Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham was released from federal prison in June 2013 after serving eight years for exchanging bribes for defense earmarks.

While the total number of earmarks has dramatically decreased under CAGW’s long-standing criteria, the earmark moratorium itself has not completely worked as advertised and has reduced transparency.  In fiscal year (FY) 2014, only a few individual members could be directly linked to earmarks, usually because they bragged about it in press releases.  In FY 2010, members were required to claim their earmarks, and distinguishing features were also included, such as the specific location where the money would be spent.  Many of the earmarks in FY 2014 were designated for large accounts, with no detail as to where the funding would be distributed or who had made the request.

However, while there are many inherent problems with the system, the overall impact on spending is positive.  In FY 2014, the twelve appropriations bills funding the federal government contained earmarks totaling $2.7 billion.  This is a significant reduction from the $16.5 billion in FY 2010, the last year prior to the institution of the moratorium, and an even more substantial decrease from the zenith of $29 billion in FY 2006.

The groundswell of support for earmarks by both parties could have dangerous implications for taxpayers.  A return to earmarking would again entice members to vote-trade, make back-room deals, and increase wasteful spending.  Instead of trying to bring back earmarks, members of Congress should devote their time and energy to restoring regular order to the budget process and cut the bloat that continues to plague government spending.

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