Earmarks are Back, Baby!

Why did so many Republicans vote for last week’s budget bill? One reason is that they wanted to avoid getting blamed for another government shutdown. As you’ll recall, the last one didn’t turn out so well. But Stan Collender says there’s another reason:

This is real inside-baseball: An omnibus appropriation provided an opportunity for the leadership to buy support from reluctant members by providing more dollars for their pet programs and projects. The demise of earmarks several years ago plus the use of continuing resolutions (which generally don’t provide dollars on a program-by-program basis) to fund the government took that ability away. This was the first appropriations bill in five years where that wasn’t the case.

[More….] Virtually every Republican who voted for the bill got some dollars devoted to something, if not many things, that her or his constituents will be very happy to have. In other words, this was the first real return of earmarks since they were banned several years ago and even anti-spending members couldn’t resist.

Earmarks are back, baby! But really, I shouldn’t be so flippant about it. Nobody likes to see the sausage being made, but the truth is that earmarks are a useful part of the legislative process. Sure, they’re a little inefficient, and sure, they can get out of hand. But they don’t increase overall spending, and they do provide congressional leaders with a way to whip their troops into line. Human nature being what it is, leaders need at least a few carrots and sticks in order to get anything done, and this is something they’ve largely lost over the past few decades. It would be a good thing if they got some of them back.


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