- - Thursday, November 17, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Democrats lost the 2016 elections because they weren’t listening, and treated voters with legitimate concerns as racists, bigots and deplorables. Some Republicans in Congress aren’t listening now. Earlier this week the House Republican Caucus was on the verge of bringing back “earmarks,” the amendments to appropriations bill that congressmen in the past used to get access to pork.

This bone-headed and tone-deaf attempt was stopped, at least temporarily, when House Speaker Paul Ryan intervened to keep his colleagues from pumping more sewage and ditchwater into the Washington swamp that President-elect Trump has promised to drain.

Republicans banned earmarks in 2011 because it’s a corrupt and cynical way for congressmen to channel federal funds to friends, cronies and special projects in their districts — such as “bridges to nowhere” and expensive studies of the sex life of fruit flies — that made no sense. Earmarks were used by Congressional leaders of both parties to entice members to vote for bills they would otherwise oppose. In the last year in which earmarks were allowed, individual congressmen steered more than $2 billion dollars into their districts. One congressman, a Republican, went to prison for pocketing $2 million dollars in bribes from lobbyists seeking special earmarks.

Earmarks were addictive and certain members of Congress, like drunks coming off a lost weekend, have been on the scout for a bottle since. The first attempt failed when John Boehner, when he was the speaker, stopped his colleagues from falling off the wagon. Speaker Ryan wants congressmen who think they just can’t survive without earmarks to put their requests in a bill, and in broad daylight, and argue the case for projects in public before the full House of Representatives. Many who demand a return of earmarks won’t do that.

Some are shameless. Rep. King of New York, a Republican, told reporters in a fit of candor that “I’m a New York hack. I support earmarks.” Mr. King added, “I believe in that type of politics, but I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’m not the moral guardian of the conference.”

Mr. King and some of his colleagues, Republican and Democrat, may say they want to drain the swamp, but yearn to make Washington ever more comfortable for insiders and their friends. Mr. King’s New York colleague, Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat, on hearing that some Republicans were trying to bring back earmarks, remarked wistfully, “I wish to goodness that would happen.”

Speaker Ryan has a better understanding of what voters said, loud and clear, on Nov. 8. Others in the Republican caucus seem determined to say that they really don’t care what voters think. They should ask themselves and others in the earmark caucus how such contempt worked for the Democrats.

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