The Return of Earmarks

For as distasteful as they might seem to the public, earmarks—when used in moderation—are an important part of the legislative process. They make compromise easier, and bolster the status of elected officials by giving them the ability to directly help their districts. Railing against earmarks makes for good politics, but as we’ve seen with congressional Republicans over the last year, it doesn’t actually improve governance. Which is why I’m glad to see that some Republicans are reconsidering their opposition:

The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House. […]

Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.

Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the “e” word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other pork barrel projects.

But as lawmakers wrestle with legislative paralysis, there are signs that earmarks - special interest projects that used to be tacked onto major bills - could make a comeback.

Earmarks won’t suddenly make lawmakers eager to work with their colleagues or reach consensus, but they could lessen some of the intransigence that we’ve seen with more radical Republicans, who are unwilling to sully their ideological purity with deal making. When the choice is between a bill you don’t like and nothing, it’s easy to choose nothing. When it’s between said bill and a new project for your district, that’s a different story.