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Commentary: Congress Must Ban Earmarks Once and For All

The Daily Caller—Before 2011, earmarks were a frequent source of corruption and furthering of personal agendas by Members of Congress. In 2011, Congress passed a temporary ban on earmarks, which every session of Congress renewed–until recently. In January 2021, after a decade-long moratorium, Congress returned earmarks under the guise of “Community Project Funding.”

Aptly known as “pork-barrel spending,” an earmark is an item in an appropriation bill or large spending package that designates money for a specific recipient, special-interest group, or pet project while avoiding the typical merit-based or competitive award process for federal funding.

By attaching earmarks to must-pass spending bills, billions of your tax dollars are diverted to fund niche projects in certain congressional districts–typically with minimal oversight or justification.

Our appropriations process is already flawed enough without further muddying the process with earmarks. It all begins every year in April; Congress is supposed to pass a budget resolution by April 15th so that we can allocate that money to specific government functions. If Congress were doing its job, we would use the spring and summer months to iron out the details of these spending bills long before the next fiscal year starts in October.

Congress has stalled every time in recent memory. Instead of doing the hard work that’s required, Congress has become known for passing chains of continuing resolutions that string things out for a few days or weeks at a time. There’s also an occasional federal government shutdown here and there if the budget or subsequent continuing resolutions don’t pass by the corresponding deadlines.

At some point when members of Congress get fed up, a few members craft trillion-dollar spending bills covering hundreds of pages behind closed doors. Earmarks, often totaling billions of dollars, are added as a sweetener.

However, we should not appropriate money to pet-projects or special interest groups to simply buy votes in the halls of Congress or in the streets of our districts. That is why I have re-introduced legislation to permanently ban earmarks, and I will continue to advocate for this legislation until my colleagues on both sides of the aisle take this seriously.

To be clear, no amount of so-called reform or transparency can make up for the blatant cronyism and wasteful spending that are inherent with earmarks.

Just look at our most recent spending bills as a prime example. The first FY24 minibus alone contained more than 6,000 earmarks, costing over $12.7 billion. In total, the fiscal year 2024 spending bills contained 8,099 earmarks accounting for $14.6 billion in taxpayer funds. At best, many of these earmarks would be better funded by local or state taxpayers–like the $4 million sewer system upgrade for a city with a population of 98 or the $1 million citywide climate assessment in Rhode Island.

Plenty of others make no sense for the public to be funding at all – like $1 million for a partisan environmentalist group, $1 million for an LGBT center, $1.8 million for a hospital that performs abortions, $2 million for a clinic that provides transgender hormone therapy for kids, and $870,000 for an artist fellowship program that demands defunding the police.

In 1822, President James Monroe said, “[F]ederal money should be limited to great national works only, since if were unlimited it would be liable to abuse and might be productive of evil.” And that is exactly what has happened.

Earmarks violate the most basic tenets of federalism. Most earmarks have no real benefit for the majority of Americans but rather serve a local interest or special interest groups. As such, these local projects should be financed at the local level by governments, businesses, or civic organizations–not by federal expenditures.

With our country over $34 trillion in debt, Congress should not continue putting taxpayers on the hook for frivolous handouts to politically connected friends. To reduce overall spending and limit waste and corruption, Congress must ban earmarks once and for all. We owe that much to our constituents.