Thomas Gallatin / Jan. 11, 2018

Republicans Flirting With Earmarks Again

Several GOP lawmakers and even Trump have floated the idea of a return to the corrupting practice.

Reminiscent of a scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, like men drawn to the power of the One Ring, Republicans are actively contemplating a return to that corrupting practice of pork-barrel spending known as “earmarks.” It was merely seven years ago that a GOP-controlled House finally banned the practice conservatives had long loathed. But now, Republicans are justifying the practice by highlighting how much good they could do.

Even President Donald Trump floated the idea, saying on Tuesday, “I hear so much about earmarks and how there was a great friendliness [among lawmakers] when you had earmarks. Of course, they had other problems, but maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a form of earmarks. One thing it did is it brought everybody together.” Of course for Trump, who is more populist than fiscal conservative, he’s looking at eliminating roadblocks to his bigger agenda. His pragmatic instinct is to make deals in order to get that agenda done, and greasing the skids with earmarks makes deals easier.

But for congressional Republicans, the consequences of reversing course on such a politically potent issue could be significant, especially in what is sure to be a hotly contested election year. As Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, warned, “The last time the Republicans ran a congressional earmark factory, they lost control of Congress. In 2006, when the Democrats took Congress, the No. 1 issue according to voters was pork and corruption. … It was a political disaster.” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) pointedly noted, “We just had a political revolution launched against the swamp [across] the political spectrum all the way from Bernie to Trump voters. I don’t think any of those folks along that entire spectrum would be in favor of earmarks.”

Indeed, you don’t drain the swamp by feeding the swamp creatures.

The reason Republicans are even suggesting a return to earmarks is the fact that it can be an effective incentive for encouraging compromise and garnering votes from across the aisle. Essentially, it’s a legal way to buy votes, but the consequences are overspending, the creation of super-incumbents, bigger government and greater opportunity for waste and corruption. Like Frodo, Republicans need to drop talk of earmarks into Mt. Doom and be done with it forever.

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