If some Republicans have their way, earmarks are about to make a reappearance in the House, despite a pledge by House Republicans to stop requesting earmarks.
According to a Politico article published this morning, several GOP House members, including Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa, want to allow earmarks for “transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water projects.”
“This isn’t trying to be too cute by half of what is an earmark and what isn’t. But we have to address the issue of how are we going to fund transportation projects across the country?” Bachmann said to Politico.
But for some anti-earmarks groups, the proposed exemption makes a joke out of the ban, which was first adopted in March for a year, and then reaffirmed in November, when Republicans said they would request no earmarks in the upcoming congressional session.
“This is pretty crazy. I’m not sure which part of no earmarks we’re not understanding here,” comments Club for Growth spokesman Mike Connolly.
“We have this done before,” Connolly adds. “There were no earmarks before 1982. There were none between ’96 and ’98. This is not beyond the wit of man.”
“It’s a terrible idea,” agrees Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “The Bridge to Nowhere was a road project. Even by the criteria that Congresswoman Bachman laid out [that the local government approves project] … Bridge to Nowhere meets that category, too.”
Ellis points out that earmarks often hurt, not help, the nation’s infrastructure, since earmarks can enable lower-priority projects to be funded before more important developments “From our perspective, infrastructure is so critical … that we can’t afford to waste a dime and earmarks are analogous to waste,” he says, adding that Taxpayers for Common Sense considers the Minnesota-Wisconsin Stillwater Bridge, which Bachmann used as an example of a good project, to be a wasteful project.
This isn’t the first time Bachmann has floated the idea of bringing earmarks back. In a mid-November interview, she told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune she wanted a “redefinition” of earmarks.
“Advocating for transportation projects for one’s district in my mind does not equate to an earmark,” she said. “I don’t believe that building roads and bridges and interchanges should be considered an earmark. There’s a big difference between funding a tea pot museum and a bridge over a vital waterway.”
But Connolly isn’t buying any new definition of earmarks. “The message of the electorate was things need to change. Getting into definition [of earmarks] … is not ok. Members need to work on their personal pronouns. They weren’t elected for my district and my projects and my programs,” he says, pointing out that they should be focused on the country’s fiscal needs, not their own “parochial desires.”
“Lawmakers will freely admit that earmarks have been the grease to keep the legislative wheels moving,” says Ellis. “Maybe that’s true in a Machiavellian sense, but in reality, that isn’t the way we should be legislating. I really look at this as an opportunity where we can do better, and should do better.”
In the last fiscal year, lawmakers requested 39,000 earmarks collectively totaling $130 billion.
UPDATE: Rep. Bachmann e-mails this statement: “I have repeatedly said that I agree with, applaud, and wholeheartedly support Speaker-designate John Boehner’s position on earmarks. I made that point to a reporter from Politico, but it was left out of their story on the GOP and earmarks. Let me be clear, there is no daylight between my position and that of John Boehner. I am opposed to earmarks.”
UPDATE II: “I can’t think of anything on record that I have said in support of that [the exemption for earmarks for transportation and other projects in the Politico story],” Rep. King tells me. “I will support the conference’s position to ban earmarks for this congress. That’s where I am.”
“We will go through this congress with no earmarks,” King continues. “But I do think earmarks have become toxic. And they’re toxic politically. Something needed to be done. … In the long run, we need to find another way to run the government because this hands over the discretionary spending to the president and his handpicked people.”
Looking to the long-term, King advocated Congress passing the CUT [Cut the Unnecessary Tab] bill he introduced in the spring, saying that it would “give Congress a line-item veto.”
Majority leader-elect Eric Cantor also just tweeted a response to the piece, “There will be no earmarks in the 112th Congress. Period. @Politico.”
UPDATE III: In response to questions about how Rep. Bachmann could reconcile her comments to the Star-Tribune and Politico with her no earmark stance, Bachmann press secretary Sergio Gor e-mails, “The Congresswoman is against earmarks, but there exists a need to fund transportation demands.”