2021: To Ease Gridlock, Congress Brings Back Earmarks

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : December 8, 2020

Now it’s been a decade after earmarks were eliminated on Capitol Hill. Earlier Congressional earmarks became symbols of profligate spending and political corruption, but now they can be primed for a comeback.

Capitol Hill has said that some key leaders have said that it is high time to end the moratorium, but the only thing is if rules require transparency, then it is better to ensure only legitimate projects go with a cut. Leaders believe that earmarks’ return can build public support towards Congress and help pass more pills along with massive infrastructure bills and COVID-19 stimulus packages when they know something is helping them directly.

2021: To Ease Gridlock, Congress Brings Back Earmarks

Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader, told USA TODAY that, ‘earmarks can come back and help give people a sense towards Congress and it is focusing on them.’ In the phone interview last week, he added, ‘every district sends a huge amount of money as tax and sending lot back for particular projects.’


2021: To Ease Gridlock, Congress Brings Back Earmarks

Now, funding for specific projects will usually be inserted into substantial spending bills. But, the same was eliminated in 2011, and it was by republicans. Now they decided to recapture the House riding a new wave of Tea Party that is in support from voters insisted that the federal government will tighten all its purse strings.

A decade back, earmarks were at the center of corruption probes, including most of the lawmakers, congressional aides, and several lobbyists.

Earlier in total, over a dozen people were convicted for the scandal and started in the early 2000s. The same issue was ended the political career of Bob Ney of Ohio, GOP congressman. He admitted to taking bribes from Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist. Native American tribes chose Abramoff, and they expected he could use all his connections in the GOP-led Congress for securing earmarks as wished by tribal leaders.

Later a different earmarks scandal led in another direction resulted in the bribery-related conviction of former Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham in 2005. He was caught steering work towards military contractors in favor.

Other earmarks scorn because they carried enormous price tags. More than that, they were a seemingly little public benefit, for example, a bridge to nowhere sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. Young in 2005 directed $ 231 million in a particular earmark for funding a bridge that was connecting Alaska, Ketchikan, and Gravina Island. The same was serving only a few residents but with an enormous price tag. After withering public criticism, he later withdrew the motion.

After the incident, the House reformed all its rules and announced that every earmark’s sponsor should be made public.

Later, these earmarks were called off as ‘congressionally directed spending.’They became reviled by conservative Republicans, and they treated them as a significant root of expanding budget benefits apart from surging national debt.

In 2014, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. referred to them as ‘the gateway drug towards spending addiction in Washington.’

Currently, it is appearing that there is enough groundswell for bringing them back, and it is under certain conditions. Every earmark’s sponsor should be identified, and there is no private sector entity that can become a receipt. Apart from that, members can never have a financial interest in the earmark project that federal aid benefits.

In September, the House Select Committee regarding the Modernization of Congress endorsed earmarks. They executed it through a competitive grant process, and it was for fostering a more equitable allocation of aid for community projects across the nation.

William Timmons, South Carolina Republican, a freshman who was on the panel, has now warned that ‘reviving earmarks can result in favoring senior lawmakers disproportionately. Apart from that, it can be used to influence voting members in unrelated legislation that they otherwise would not do.’

According to Hoyer, the entire budget of the earmarks will be limited to one percent of the $1.3 trillion available in discretionary money on which Congress has control, and that is around $13 billion.

There is support from both top Democrats and top Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee that is now handling spending bills to return earmarks. Shelby’s spokesperson said, ‘It supports all the directed appropriations that are meritorious and transparent.’

But on Tuesday, when asked by reporters about whether he would follow the House or refuse in bringing back earmarks, Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, R-Ky looked noncommittal.

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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