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Earmarks: More Dysfunction on Top of a Broken System

It looks like Democrats want to bring back earmarks. Does everyone remember those?

Let’s back up just a minute and talk about “appropriations” in Congress, which is the process of allocating your tax dollars to specific government functions. The Constitution places this responsibility directly on Congress. Every year in the House, we’re supposed to craft 12 appropriations bills – each one covering a different function of the federal government.

If Congress were doing its job, we’d be spending MONTHS in the spring and summer ironing out these spending bills, long before the next fiscal year starts in October. It no longer works that way, however, and an odd combination of procrastination and political laziness is now the norm.

So 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 & there.

But the WORST is a yearly holiday tradition of hastily bundling together several appropriations bills into one massive omnibus bill – multiple thousands of pages long – that nobody has time to read before a vote is rushed through with barely enough time to get home for Christmas.

To add insult to injury, Congress has surrendered much of its authority to the Executive Branch when it comes to how your money is spent. Congress is supposed to have the “power of the purse,” but there are thousands of instances where we have relinquished that control – opting instead to send countless billions of your dollars to any number of federal agencies, and allowing them to ultimately decide how to spend it. That’s not the way it should work! This is all so dysfunctional that our appropriations process has turned into a national disgrace.

What we desperately need is a return to “regular order,” where Congress carefully crafts each appropriations bill, with plenty of time for Members to understand the legislation and debate before voting on each. Commitments to regular order and a balanced budget are the only things that can restore some sanity to this process.

So let’s get back to the subject of earmarks. An earmark is when your tax dollars are sent to a specific pet project, usually to the benefit of a single state or congressional district.

Remember the $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska? That was an earmark. What about half a million dollars for a teapot museum in North Carolina? Or $3.4 million to build a tunnel for turtles in Florida? Those were earmarks. As was $50 million of your money for an indoor rainforest in Iowa, among other things.

Earmarks were banned when Republicans controlled Congress back in 2011 because they became a gateway for fraud. From kickbacks & bribes to politicians trying to help themselves or family members, corruption charges were brought against a number of people over the years related to earmarks.

So it AMAZES me that Democrats now want to restore earmarks but have no desire to restore regular order to the appropriations process. That’s like trying to make rotten tuna salad taste better with a large spread of rancid mayo.

Earlier today, I submitted a bill that would continue to ban earmarks in the House. It has the support of FreedomWorks, Heritage Action, the National Taxpayers Union, and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste. And I’m thrilled to have Sen. Daines (R-MT) sponsoring the companion bill over in the Senate.

Whether this effort gets any traction remains to be seen. But restoring earmarks would just be adding more dysfunction on top of a broken system that needs wholesale reform. So it’s important for us to at least try.

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