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Republicans Don't Like Earmarks, Except When They Do

New York Times reporter Stephania Lai has recently published a helpful and revealing story about Congress’s new-found, bipartisan embrace of earmarks. Republicans banned them for a while, but Democrats brought them back. Now both parties are drinking from the public earmark trough.
Earmarks allow members of Congress to target taxpayer funds for specific purposes, usually in their own district or state. Those funds may be used for projects that widely benefit the public, such as roads, bridges or community centers. But they have often been spent on questionable or vanity projects. And occasionally earmarks are associated with corruption, as when some company or organization funnels money to a member of Congress to secure public funding.
House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner—who had never asked for an earmark—voted to ban the practice in 2011 as a way to demonstrate their fiscal prudence and change the way Washington worked. Democrats eventually followed suit.
Sadly, federal spending never slowed down and Washington never changed its ways.
Democrats decided to bring earmarks back in 2021, and Republicans soon joined the bandwagon. However, they made some changes that are supposed to make the earmark process more transparent and defensible.
Even though earmarks have been a relatively small part of discretionary spending, the practice usually grows over time.
A New York Times review of the recently passed omnibus found, “nearly $16 billion in earmarks included in the $1.7 trillion spending law enacted in December—more than 7,200 projects in all—revealed that earmarks requested by members of both parties skyrocketed over the last year.”
While Democrats secured more earmarks, the GOP numbers are growing. “Republican members secured 85 percent more in spending for pet projects in the latest funding package than in previous one, whereas Democrats’ increase was 70 percent.” [See the graph.]

To be sure, defenders assert that earmarks don’t increase federal spending. They just allow members of Congress, rather than the administration and its various agencies and bureaucrats, to identify how some of the money going to the states is spent.
They also claim that earmarks grease the budget negotiations, allowing leadership to horse trade some earmark spending for votes. And it’s probably true that budget negotiations have been much more difficult without earmarks.
On the other hand, voters tend to see earmarks as a prime example of Washington corruption. They believe earmarks increase federal spending and perpetuate the “swamp,” and that elected officials use them to “buy votes.”
If Republicans plan to continue with earmarks and gain the public’s trust that they are better stewards of the taxpayers’ money, they will have to find a way to cut federal spending. Only by cutting spending can they claim that earmarks don’t force Congress to spend more and corrupt the process.