Earmarks as a path to national healing? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Congressional Institute President Mark Strand has an oped in The Hill today that discusses how reinstituting earmarks could start bipartisan conversations among lawmakers. House Republicans instituted a moratorium prohibiting earmarks after they took the majority in 2010, which has stood ever since. Strand argues that it’s time to loosen that rule. From the oped:
House Democrats can incentivize their own moderates and Republicans to participate in legislation by giving them a real stake in the final passage by allowing earmarks. Lawmakers in either chamber would be hard-pressed to vote against a bill if it includes funds for a project in her or his district and regional partnerships can be strengthened if there’s a real chance for funding projects collaboratively.
The oped makes the point that the American people voted for the “razor-thin majority” in the House and a Senate that’s split 50-50. There are three other times in our history when the Senate was equally split – 1881, 1953, and 2001 when then Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) made a power-sharing agreement that held until former Sen. Jim Jeffords switched parties from Republican to Independent and chose to caucus with the Democrats. Still, even that period did not have the partisan schism that we’re dealing with now.
At the opening of the 117th Congress, House Democrats jammed through a rules package that eliminates the motion to recommit, which is one of the few ways in which the minority party can affect legislation. That may help Speaker Nancy Pelosi hold her caucus together on difficult votes, but it denies a voice not just to Republican lawmakers but to their constituents.
From the oped:
This, of course, is what the far left wants. After all, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) encouraged voters in Georgia to elect the two Democratic candidates so that her party in the House wouldn’t have to negotiate with Senate Republicans.
But not every Democrat represents a far-left district. There are tens of millions of Americans who live in congressional districts represented by someone with whom they disagree politically. They are still due representation. There are tens of millions of Americans living in a Republican district. They, too, expect representation.
The Constitution gives the power to direct federal spending to Congress, not the Executive Branch, but lawmakers are ceding that power to the White House and various departments and agencies by continuing to eschew earmarks. Bringing them back would not only strengthen the Legislative Branch but it would bring more House Members and Senators into the legislative process. After all, as Strand wrote, “Lawmakers in either chamber would be hard-pressed to vote against a bill if it includes funds for a project in her or his district and regional partnerships can be strengthened if there’s a real chance for funding projects collaboratively.”
Strand points to the work from the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress as a guide path for reinstituting earmarks with transparency. Read the full oped here.