“ represent a victory of seniority over merit, they represented a victory of secrecy over transparency,” says Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Former and current Republican congressional lawmakers raised concern against reinstating the practice of earmarks during a discussion hosted by the largest conservative caucus in Congress on Tuesday.
“I’m astounded that you’re even having this conversation,” former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said during the Republican Study Committee discussion. “If the Republicans really want to give up control of Congress, just [bring back earmarks]. I guarantee it’s going to happen if you do.”
Coburn called earmarks “the gateway drug to overspending,” and cautioned against restoring them.
Earmarks, which were banned under House rules in 2010, allow taxpayer money to be directed to special interests and projects through the budget.
Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who represented the state’s 4th Congressional District from 2005 to 2013 and who serves as the president of The Heritage Foundation, said that earmarks lead to a corrupted political system.
“You can hear all kinds of good excuses for earmarks, [like] ‘this is a good project,’’’ DeMint said. “For every good project, there are wasteful projects. It corrupts the system, we’ve had congressmen go to jail, we’ve had congressmen use earmarks for their own special interests.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., warned that reinstating earmarks would work against the mandate of voters to “drain the swamp.”
“When you hear ‘drain the swamp’ right now, just realize that was the rallying cry for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in 2006 when they took the majority, largely because of earmarks,” Flake said.
Flake added that the process of allocating earmarks takes away from the oversight responsibilities that committees in Congress hold.
“I think that the worst part [of earmarks], worse than the money spent through the actual earmarks themselves, is the time, effort, and resources that the appropriations committees in the House and the Senate spend just trying to divvy out earmarks,” Flake said.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said he is disheartened that Congress is raising this proposal again.
“I never thought I would have to be a part of getting the ‘earmark ban band’ back together,” Hensarling said.
Earmarks, Hensarling said, embody everything that is contrary to conservative values.
“[Earmarks] represent a victory of seniority over merit, they represented a victory of secrecy over transparency, they represented a victory of sweetheart deals over competitive bidding … they cause members to vote for spending bills they otherwise would not have voted for,” Hensarling said.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said that achieving spending restraint will not be possible with earmarks in play.
“With the election of [President] Donald Trump, Americans made it clear that they want to ‘drain the swamp,’” Flores said. “Now, there are a lot of people around here that think the swamp is a hot tub, but it’s a swamp and it needs to be drained.”
Flores said that he was “surprised” that the subject of reinstating earmarks has even been raised.
Concerned about Congress’ current stance on earmarks, Flores urged listeners to voice their disapproval of reinstating the process.
“I have this sick feeling that there is more than half the conference that would vote for this if it came back. So we need to make sure that we have grassroots support … so we can make sure this does not come back,” Flores said.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said bringing back earmarks would only contribute to the problematic public policies in Congress and harm its political climate.
DeSantis said it is a myth that Congress “needs earmarks to reclaim the power of the purse.”
“We forfeited the power of the purse by doing continuing resolutions and omnibus bills, and, if you introduce earmarks tomorrow … you will have even bigger and more grotesque omnibus bills,” he said.
Should earmarks return, DeSantis said that curbing executive overreach and reining in the national debt will be harder to accomplish.
“Earmarks facilitate federal overreach, spending on things that aren’t linked to the general welfare … the more you expand the spending power to subsidize anything possible under the sun, it’s much more difficult for us to get our fiscal house in order,” DeSantis said.
For Sen. Mike Lee., R-Utah, earmarks are a symbol of everything that Congress should avoid.
“When people talk about the fact that Congress needs to get back in charge of its own spending, I couldn’t agree more,” Lee said. “But that does not mean ‘Bring back earmarks.’”
Instead, Lee said Republicans would own the pork-barrel spending legacy, should earmarks be reinstated.