Every member of Congress I've discussed the reemergence of earmarks with is very enthusiastic-- and in theory, it sounds like a decent idea. In practice... well, watch the Fox News clip above. Chris Wallace was looking for the most outrageously corrupt members of Congress. He came across right-wing hack Ken Calvert of Riverside County, California, a man who was arrested for coercing an underage girl to blow him in his car, illegally parked a public park-- and then trying to flee from the police. But the report on Fox wasn't about that. Watch the clip up top. It's what earmarks are in practice, not in theory and why I disagree with my congressional friends about bringing them back.
Today Calvert, still one of Congress' most crooked members, is a "respected" senior Republican. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee where he's the ranking member of the subcommittee on Defense, a position he uses to enrich himself and his campaign donors. He is drooling over the prospect of bringing back earmarks and today he will likely vote to do exactly that. This morning the Punchbowl crew wrote in their newsletter that today House Republicans expected to vote "on reversing their ban on earmarks for upcoming spending and infrastructure bills, according to multiple GOP lawmakers and aides." If the GOP Conference overturns its ban-- as Leader, Cat In The Hat expects they will-- "this would represent a major shift for Republicans, which banned the practice when they took the majority in 2011. It would also be the most significant shift in Capitol Hill governance in years. And it could put pressure on the Senate Republicans to follow suit, since both House Democrats and Republicans would be putting earmarks in bills.
No one wants this more than the Congressman from K Street, super-corrupt, lobbyist-controlled Steny Hoyer. These are the theoretical reasons for Republicans moving forward with this terrible idea that the Democratic leadership wants to push through but would love-- or perhaps even needs-- some "bipartisan" cover to do so successfully:
Restoring earmarks would give Congress a bigger voice in directing the spending that it appropriates, and it would reassert the legislative branch’s power in Washington. Right now, lawmakers partake in a hazy process in which they try to influence how state and federal agencies spend they money they authorize. The GOP leadership’s argument as it tries to quietly build support for earmarks-- referred to as “member-directed spending”-- is just that: Let’s take control of how the money is spent instead of empowering the Biden administration.
Allowing earmarks would potentially help the leadership in both parties build support around spending bills. If members have projects and spending for their districts embedded in bills, they’re theoretically more likely to support them.
Leadership would also gain in power, because they’d ultimately have the tacit authority to strip trouble-making lawmakers’ earmarks out of bills. Top appropriators would see their stock rise, as well.
Earmarks would also give Republican appropriations lobbyists a new lease on life.
Of course, there’s a potential downside. The new earmark process has been designed so that no private companies can get money, only localities and quasi-governmental agencies. But anytime lawmakers have their hands in pots of money, there’s risk of abuse.
There will be limits on earmarks [at least to start, so that it seems more palatable to t a wary public but this is a VERY slippery slope-- unless you trust crooked pols like Pelosi, Hoyer, McCarthy, Schumer, McConnell... yeah the one with the wife who should be going to prison for corruption.] Members will have to declare publicly it’s their earmark and certify that they have no financial interest in the provision. As we noted, the money can’t go to a private company, just nonprofits or groups carrying out governmental functions. There will be a limit on how many earmarks a member can request. Just one percent of any spending bill can be set aside for earmarks.
“Major changes have been made,” said Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee. Granger said she is supporting the use of earmarks again, with the reforms now in place. “As long as we have those safeguards in there, I would,” Granger added.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other senior GOP lawmakers have been pretty quiet on the issue, although the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives oppose lifting the ban. The opposition is not nearly as noisy as it has been in past years.
So today, "one member of the House Republican Conference has to offer a motion to change GOP rules and get rid of the earmark ban. Five members would have to support the request. The important thing here is the vote has to be by secret ballot. If that’s the case, then earmarks will almost certainly be approved. There could be some internally maneuvering on this today, but it seems as if all parties want to get a vote out of the way."
The fact that this would only pass on a secret ballot, should tell you a lot about what these politicians have in their minds
In November, when Hoyer went into high gear to get this going, I asked Liam O'Mara, the progressive who took on Calvert last cycle-- with no help at all from the DCCC-- and did better against him than any Democrat ever had in the past. O'Mara plans to take Calvert on again in 2022. "If Members of Congress want something done for their districts," he told me at the time, "they should propose a bill and get it to the floor. Tacking unrelated things onto bills with wide support is a corrupt and dishonest practice, and one reason most Americans do not trust Congress with their money. Crooked Ken Calvert has used earmarks for decades to enrich himself and his cronies, and in such a nakedly corrupt manner that even Fox News attacked him for it.
Late last month, Alyce McFadden reported for Open Secrets about why the most corrupt members of Congress are so hung-ho on reinstitution earmarks. "Though earmarks constitute just a sliver of federal spending," she wrote, "K Street could see major gains from a revitalization of earmarks. The year after Republicans nixed congressional earmarks, total federal lobbying expenditures fell by $170 million, though other conditions including the economic recession and passage of the Affordable Care Act at the end of 2010 may have also played a part in the drop in lobbying spending. Lobbying spending rebounded under Trump. 'Our clients are excited about the prospect of a return to earmarks, and we think we can be helpful to them with our advocacy there,' one senior lobbyist told Roll Call."
It's worth noting, as McFadden did that some Republicans who know how corrupt their colleagues are "are gearing up for an intra-party battle over earmarks. Reps. Tedd Budd (R-NC) and Ralph Norman (R-SC) introduced a bill on Feb. 18 that would permanently eliminate earmarks. Budd and Norman are both members of the House Freedom Caucus, which tweeted Wednesday that it would oppose any effort to bring back earmarks.
UPDATE: GOP Wants That Pork
In their conference meeting today, House Republicans voted 102-84 to go along with the Steny Hoyer-Kevin McCarthy Corruption Act of 2021. Lobbyists are popping the champagne bottles on K Street and Jack Abramoff is laughing his ass off. He's out of prison now, right?
As Branko Marcetic noted today, "the two major US political parties are not only vehicles for furthering the interests of their (often elite) constituencies, but also for patronage and personal enrichment. As one recent research report determined, 'working on the Hill is viewed as an entry-level position for K Street, rather than a stepping stone for a career in public service,' with nearly half of staffers seeing the private sector as their next step, and around half of those planning to go into lobbying. But it’s not just staffers. A 2016 study that looked at all former members of Congress between 1976 and 2012 found that while less than 10 percent of those who retired in the 1970s sidled into the lobbying industry, the trend shot up over the late 1980s and early 1990s, with party leaders and those with seniority most likely to do so. Nearly two-thirds of the 2017–19 Congress’ retiring members spun out into K Street, with another 7 percent into corporate jobs, and senators who entered the revolving door tended to 'vote more moderately'-- that is, business-friendly-- 'during their final two years in Congress,' according to a 2020 study."