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Does the Earmark Moratorium Hurt Congress? Does the Earmark Moratorium Hurt Congress?

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Does the Earmark Moratorium Hurt Congress?

Let's start with a disclaimer: The earmark moratorium in the House is not going away. Staffers for House Speaker John Boehner and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., made that fact abundantly clear when National Journal was putting together its special issue on the Transportation Committee.

But that doesn't mean some lawmakers don't miss earmarks, as illustrated in this awesome story by my colleague Amy Harder.


One of the chief complaints about the earmark ban from both Republicans and Democrats is that it takes away Congress's ability to direct taxpayer resources and leaves all that power in the hands of the administration. This is particularly troubling to Republicans, who don't trust President Obama to abide by any of their wishes. But it also worries some Democrats, who don't want Congress to unnecessarily cede authority to another branch of government.

Veterans of the Transportation Committee say that in the past, earmarks actually made their work on legislation more meaningful because it provided a way for members who weren't on the committee to engage in complicated legislation. Were some of the projects tucked into highway or water bills unnecessary or inappropriate? Maybe, but you can probably count those offenders on one hand. The vast majority of the projects were arguably legitimate and useful, and they accounted for less than 10 percent of the legislation.

Now, the Transportation Committee has drafted the first ever water resources bill without earmarks, which is a trick. (We haven't seen the bill yet, but reports from staffers indicate that it focuses heavily on process.) In order to get the rest of the House interested in the bill, the committee has put together a series of videos explaining it. We'll have to see if they work.


The Senate has passed its own earmark-free water resources bill, but Republicans complain that it cedes way too much power to the administration. Without earmarks, however, there isn't much of an alternative.

What are the benefits of the earmark ban? What are the downsides? Is there a middle ground between a moratorium and a pork-fest? In this age of high-tech transparency, could there be an open and online "judging" space for project requests that would give lawmakers more say in where taxpayer dollars are spent? Are critics right that the administration has too much power without earmarks? How can lawmakers influence the administration without them?

From the Transportation Insiders

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