During his bipartisan meeting with members of Congress at the White House Tuesday, President Trump tossed out an idea for making Congress work better. “Maybe all of you should starting thinking about going back to a form of earmarks,” Trump said. He added: “This system really lends itself to not getting along. It lends itself to hostility and anger, they hate the Republicans, they hate the Democrats.”
An earmark is a provision in spending bill that allocates money for a specific project or purpose. Earmarks became synonymous with pork-barrel spending as they were often used to direct money to a lawmaker’s district to win over their vote on other legislation.
The House banned the practice under John Boehner’s leadership in 2011, but House Republicans looked at restoring them in 2016 before House Speaker Paul Ryan quashed the idea. “The Speaker was proud to be part of implementing the original earmark ban with former Speaker Boehner, and has no plan to bring back this process that led to overspending and wasted taxpayer dollars,” his office said in 2016.
But reports this week indicate that some GOPers are again considering bringing back earmarks, with hearings on the idea in the works for early this year. “Members are increasingly realizing how much power they gave up to the Executive Branch,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), vice chairman of the Rules Committee, told the Washington Times.
Trump told lawmakers Tuesday that he would want to put “better controls” on earmarks, and some agreed with the president’s assessment. “Worth noting that despite the ban on earmarks, pork barrel spending of taxpayer money for local projects lawmakers slip into congressional bills is still alive & well—it just goes by a different name,” analyst Anna Massoglia, formerly of the Center for Responsive Politics, tweeted. “Officially bringing back earmarks, if done right, could increase transparency.”
But the idea was also quickly met with criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
“The President just embraced earmarks? Talk about the swampiest of swamp creatures. You gotta be kidding me,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) tweeted.
David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, warned that bringing back earmarks “virtually guarantees” that Republicans would lose the House. “Bringing back earmarks is the antithesis of draining the swamp,” he said in a statement. “Earmarks will only benefit the special interests that grow government at the expense of working men and women.”