Congress has abandoned its ban on earmarks for spending projects, and the Members are making up for lost pork. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Monday took advantage of the Democrats’ recent decision to end the earmark ban, releasing $5.7 billion of pet projects to include in its $547 billion highway bill. The list runs to 133 pages.
According to a Roll Call analysis, of the 2,383 individual earmark requests, 62% were granted. Democrats did most of the asking, filing 75% of the requests, though Republicans made 605 of their own.
While many earmarks will flow to interstate highways and bridges, the list includes the usual feast of local political massaging. There’s a “shared use path” in Chandler, Ariz.; “new vans for elderly” in Haverhill, Mass.; and $189,357 for a sidewalk on Southcot Drive in Casselberry, Fla. Democrats also saw an opportunity to push climate pork, diverting money to electric-vehicle charging stations, electric bus infrastructure, and even an “electric vehicle car share program” in San Pedro, Calif.
Supporters insist earmarks are central to Congress’s constitutional power of the purse, but the list proves that earmarks mainly serve to let Congressional leaders reward or punish Members. Roll Call notes that while most of the earmarks are from $1 million to $5 million, 25 projects are for $20 million or more—and, surprise, six are in Speaker
home state of California.
The leader in earmark dollar requests ($892 million) is
Washington Rep. Kim Schrier,
who is among the most vulnerable Democrats in 2022. She received nearly $15 million for at least two pedestrian bridges.
Somewhere former Republican leader
is smiling. He made earmarks into an engine of personal power, but abuses proliferated, leading to corruption and helping to end 12 years of GOP House control in 2006. Democrats insist new transparency and disclosure rules will ensure that their “member designated projects” don’t get out of hand, but we’ve heard that before. Congress’s gateway drug to spending is back, and Members are already on their way to mainlining.
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Appeared in the June 11, 2021, print edition.