It is common knowledge that addictions can kill you, and this is true in life and in politics. Former Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) once famously stated that earmarks are “the gateway drug to Washington Spending Disease” and they are the addiction that may kill the Republicans’ congressional majority. For the second time since the November elections, some congressional republicans are seeking to revive the loathsome practice of earmarks being inserted into spending bills. For decades, earmarks were the favorite tool of incumbent members of Congress who used these appropriations measures to insert spending favors into omnibus bills to bring home the bacon for their “constituents.” This practice allowed congressmen to use taxpayer dollars to curry favor with donors and special interests, who, in turn, raised money and support to keep them in office.
Such pay-to-play politics was the catalyst for the Tea Party movement in 2009 -2010, which swept Republicans back into power in Washington. Original Tea Party activists used TEA as an acronym that stands for Taxed Enough Already, and these conservatives rightly viewed earmarks as the embodiment of corruption in Washington. In 2011, shortly after retaking the House, congressional Republicans passed a ban on the practice, which set the tone for greater transparency and restraint with regard to spending. Members had to vote on spending bills on their merits, not just because an earmark contained goodies for their donors.
The earmark ban of 2011 was widely hailed as a major step forward by conservative groups ranging from the Club for Growth to The Heritage Foundation, and have given congressional Republicans moral authority on fiscal matters in Congress. This makes the continued effort of some Republican leaders to repeal the ban all the more baffling. Nevertheless, Rep. John Culberson of Texas, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, is trying for the second time since November to reinstate the practice of earmarks. Culberson claims that earmarks are necessary in order for Congress to use the power of the purse to reign in the executive, something that conservatives called on Congress to do while Barack Obama was forging-ahead with his spending spree. Culberson says that earmarks are necessary if “We want to be able to have some input on what these bureaucracies are doing in secret.”
I find it more than a little suspicious that Culberson didn’t attempt to reinstate earmarks during the Obama presidency, but, instead, waited until the 2016 election was over to make his move. If politics is perception, then it appears Culberson and other GOP House members want to reinstate earmarks now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, so that they can start paying-out goodies to their donors again. Earmarks absolutely are not necessary for Congress to restrain the actions of the executive branch, or any federal bureaucracy. House Appropriations can write the budget for bureaucracies and can also conduct oversight hearings and investigations into their operations. In short, Culberson’s lame excuse for bringing back earmarks simply doesn’t hold water.
If Congressional Republicans suddenly have amnesia about out-of-control spending and our crushing national debt now that Republicans run the government again, then they should be prepared for Speaker Nancy Pelosi come 2018. Americans have given the Republican Party once more chance to prove that it is serious about putting our fiscal house back in order, and if they blow it they will return to the minority party in Congress. It is my hope that Speaker Paul Ryan does now what he did in November, which is to tell Culberson and other spendthrift Republicans that they are not going tone-deaf to American voters and engaging in a spending spree to buy votes for incumbent congressmen.