Could earmarks be coming back to Congress? That question is being raised more and more frequently by lawmakers, advocacy groups and the media. Earmarks definitely got a bad rap for being instruments of corruption, but Congressional Institute president Mark Strand argued in an article published by the Columbus Dispatch that earmarks can be part of good legislating. From the article:

It would give members of Congress an avenue to better serve their constituents, a tangible sign that they are getting something done.

And he argued, they could be an incentive for bipartisanship. A Republican with an earmark in a specific bill might be more likely to support that bill, even if it’s introduced by a Democrat.

“What would you put first, practically speaking: Helping your people, or ideology?’ he asked. ‘My guess is most people would put the interest of their district first.”

Strand has long advocated for bringing back earmarks in a responsible manner. Right now, Congress has very little say in how Federal dollars are spent by the Administration. Earmarks are also a vital component of the carrot-and-stick approach congressional leadership takes toward their respective Members. They can also play a role in restoring civility in Congress. Strand wrote this in an oped published in The Hill:

Earmarks are also an important way to restore civility in Congress, since it allows legislators in the minority party to participate in the legislative process. When members of the minority are excluded from the amendment process, their constituents’ most urgent priorities go unrepresented. Opening up the legislative process so that all members can direct spending in their own districts and accomplish important policy goals gives both the majority and minority incentives to pass authorization and appropriation bills with healthy bipartisan margins.

The Congressional Institute has published additional research on earmarks. Strand and Institute Research Director Timothy Lang co-authored an article for the Standard Law Review on earmarks that can be found here.

Read the full Columbus Dispatch here.