- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The House Rules Committee took the first steps to revive earmark spending in Washington, announcing it will hold two hearings next week to look at Congress’s power of the purse.

Chairman Pete Sessions announced Jan. 17 and 18 hearings, which will feature lawmakers and invited outside witnesses.

The hearings make good on a promise House Speaker Paul D. Ryan made in late 2016 to study a return to earmarks.

But the move is meeting stiff resistance.

Dozens of conservative and budget watchdog groups signed a letter to Congress Wednesday pleading with them to pump the brakes on the push.

The groups said not only do earmarks end up enticing lawmakers to support more bloated government, but they also cut into more important spending such as research or private investment.

The letter came a day after President Trump embraced the push, saying earmarks could help bridge partisan gaps.

Conservative groups acknowledged Mr. Trump’s concerns, but said earmarks aren’t the answer.

“In a time of dysfunction and even immobility on major legislation, it is not surprising that lawmakers might seek any available options for making the wheels of government turn smoother. But relying upon cronyism and waste as the currency is indefensible,” said the groups, led by the Coalition to Reduce Spending and the National Taxpayers.

Earmark defenders say Congress has given up too much of its power of the purse since banning earmarks in 2011. Instead, decisions are being made by bureaucrats who often ignore lawmakers’ requests for priority.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which among other things is in charge of many of the country’s large water projects, has come under particular fire as lawmakers say their requests are stiff-armed.

At their height, earmarks were about 1 percent of federal spending — though some of the abuses caused embarrassment well beyond that level of spending. One member of Congress even ended up in jail for selling earmarks.

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