- - Monday, March 8, 2021

Now that Democrats fully control Washington they have announced they will bring back “earmarks.”

Earmarks? The bridge to nowhere. The currency of corruption in Washington, D.C., for decades. Earmarks that have been banned by Republicans for a decade because they led to wasteful spending and “pay to play” corruption. 

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, announced their framework to reinstate earmarks last week, which they are calling “Congressionally directed spending.” This will fool nobody.

Democrats are branding this proposal as a way to provide “community project funding.” However, it will actually be a way to buy the votes members of Congress use to support legislation they would otherwise vote against. You do not need to give cash to friends and neighbors of a congressman to vote for a good piece of legislation. Only for a bad one.

Not everyone waits to be bribed. All members of Congress can dangle cash from Washington before the eyes of voters and more importantly potential donors. Of course, earmarks are only needed to get contributions and favors from someone who otherwise would not give to the congressman. It is always a quid pro quo. Pay to play.



Now that the Democratic Congress and White House are adding trillions to their spending spree wish lists, they are simultaneously restoring the means of corrupting all such spending decisions. This will not end well.

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package already contains countless provisions unrelated to the pandemic. 

For instance, the legislation contains $350 billion in bailout money for state and local governments even though many states have seen little or no revenue loss from the pandemic. It spends $1.5 billion for Amtrak, $500 million to fund the arts and $800 million in foreign food aid. The legislation even tried to spend $100 million for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) expansion in San Jose, California, (right outside of Nancy Pelosi’s district), $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge in New York (in Chuck Schumer’s state), but this language had to be removed because it violated budget reconciliation rules.

By restoring earmarks, Democrats will ensure this wasteful spending is only the tip of the iceberg. Already, the left is floating a $4 trillion infrastructure plan in infrastructure spending that would provide giveaways to labor unions, green energy and other special interests. Democrats are already telegraphing that they will use earmarks to buy votes on this proposal. 

This kind of process is exactly why earmarks were first banned in 2011. They are the currency of corruption and big spending. They are given to buy the vote of a congressman who may oppose large spending bills, but can find it in his heart to forgive and endorse and vote for this waste if it includes a lovely gift for their district. Earmarks buy bad votes. 

Earmarks have a proven lead to massive amount of frivolous spending. The most infamous example of this is the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which would have connected a town of 9,000 to an island with an airport and population of 50, despite the availability of a ferry. This would have cost taxpayers $320 million. Thankfully, once exposed, the project was canceled. 

Other examples include a $500,000 earmark for a teapot museum and at least 119 earmarks for bike paths.

Ending earmarks was a great step toward reducing corruption. Bringing them back will once again enable members of Congress to abuse their power, leading to billions in wasted taxpayers dollars. 

Washington pundits and lobbyists describe earmarks as a way to foster transparency and make Congress work. In reality, the opposite is true. 

In recent years, Congress has developed a bad habit of passing massive multi-trillion dollar spending bills at the 11th hour after giving lawmakers and the public mere hours to review thousands of pages of text.

Earmarks will make this problem worse, not better. It will be easier to buy the votes of politicians while doing nothing to make more transparent or efficient. Politicians will be incentivized to look the other way on this broken process because it benefits them.

A key aspect of the Democrat agenda is trillions of dollars in new spending. Restoring earmarks will make it easier for them to achieve this goal as it will provide them a pathway to buy off hesitant members of Congress. It will make our broken budget process even worse by encouraging corruption and wasteful spending.

• Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

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