The Great Earmark Ban Wars

Dems discover their inner John McCain

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Congressional Democrats are waging a war on budgetary earmarks. House Democrats have banned earmarks to private companies, following ethics complaints that earmarks were abused by lawmakers funneling money to their donors. Republicans have responded with a proposed ban on all earmarks, including to non-profits and local infrastructure projects. This should seem familiar: In the 2008 presidential race, Republican candidate John McCain made banning earmarks a central plank of his campaign. So now that Democats are hopping on the anti-earmarks bandwagon, what should make of the still-unclear politics and policy?

  • Bad News For Lobbyists  Roll Call's Anna Palmer reports, "Lobbyists are bracing for a tumultuous appropriations season following the decision Wednesday by House Democrats to bar earmarks to for-profit companies. While K Streeters moved into overdrive on Capitol Hill to gather intelligence about how specific funding requests will be affected, lobbyists said lawmakers’ move to ban the Congressional practice of directing federal money was just for show."
  • No-Bid Contract Ban, Great Idea  Liberal blogger John Cole faintly praises, "It makes no sense giving no-bid contracts via earmarks, so this is a welcome attempt at change, but I still find all the attention given to the relatively small amount of money spent on earmarks to be amusing. Hell, the Army spends more on diesel fuel and JP8 every year than congress spends on earmarks, and in a lot of cases, earmarks are completely legit."
  • Ban All Earmarks  Biz Blogger Andrew Samwick makes the case. "All discretionary money should be awarded on an open, competitive basis, with oversight of the executive branch agencies by appropriate Congressional committees. Earmarks have no place in federal spending, as a matter of principle," he writes. "It's not the $20 billion hit to the budget -- federal spending may not even go down if special interest projects are replaced by meritorious projects. It is the lack of transparency and the potential for corruption that is the problem."
  • Will Senate Follow Suit?  The Hill's Susan Crabtree is skeptical, as Senate Democrats are "fighting over a ban on earmarks to for-profit companies, throwing a wrench in a House attempt to burnish its ethics record before the midterm elections." She says this divde "could create a protracted fight over the fiscal 2011 spending bills."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.