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House Republicans Talk About Bringing Back Earmarks

On March 30, 2012, Reuters published an article “House Republicans discuss reviving earmarks,” that some taxpayers thought was an early April Fool’s Day joke.  According to the article, “In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, [Mike] Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago.  Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.”  He was not alone. “Rogers' remarks in the closed caucus meeting in early March were echoed by two other Republican lawmakers, Representatives Louie Gohmert [Texas] and Kay Granger [Texas], according to some at the meeting.”   The sad truth is that Rep. Rogers (et al) said what many Republicans (and Democrats) have been thinking.

In 2010, Congress agreed to a moratorium on congressional earmarks.  Taxpayers and small government advocates cheered the moratorium but also understood that a moratorium is only that, a moratorium, and not a complete ban on earmarks.  Politicians wanted to leave themselves some wiggle room just in case.  That is why Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) sponsored S. 1930, the Earmark Elimination Act, which is intended to permanently kill earmarks.

S. 1930 is necessary because earmarks still exist.  When Congress passed the multi-thousand-page Omnibus spending bill right before their Christmas vacation, they forgot to tell taxpayers about the earmarks hidden in the bill. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) uncovered 89 earmarks worth $3 billion in the Defense section of the bill (click here to see the full list) despite the insistence of both political parties that that the bill was free of earmarks and the claim that Congress stuck to their self-imposed ban on earmarks.  Government watchdogs and taxpayers had very little opportunity to scrutinize the spending bill since it was released early Thursday (12/15) morning and voted on Friday (12/16) afternoon.  The initial links to the legislation only contained legislative language and not report details.  The release of the conference report details occurred after votes by the House and the Senate.  This was a shameful lack of transparency and fiscal responsibility.   What was more disappointing is that Congress showed some bit of fiscal restraint in the bill, but the inclusion of earmarks shows that the temptation of earmarks will always be present. 

Earmarks have been the bribery currency of Congress for many years, as both parties used them to buy votes, bring federal dollars to their district and ultimately get re-elected.  Former members of Congress including Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) were sent to jail for accepting bribes to secure earmarks.  Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff also spent time in jail in connection with earmarks promised to clients.  The notorious “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark became a national symbol of government waste.  Unfortunately, our nation’s history is now full of examples of wasteful spending due to the practice of congressional earmarking.  Some of the most egregious examples include:  $50,000,000 for an indoor rain forest in Iowa; $500,000 for a teapot museum; and $100,000 for the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Earmarks circumvent established budgetary processes and procedures and further exacerbate taxpayers’ cynicism of Washington, D.C.  Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has called earmarks “the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington.”  The current $15 trillion national debt is partly due to Congress being more concerned about earmarks than the financial well-being of the country.

Rep. Rogers should reconsider his declaration and realize that any backsliding on earmarks would be fiscally irresponsible and be a slap to the face of taxpayers.


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