The Congressional Institute
1700 Diagonal Road. #730
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (703) 837-8812

The Sausage Factory

Can Earmarks Make a Comeback?

Earmarks – the directing of federal spending to specific projects in Member’s districts – could make a comeback, after having been under a de facto ban since 2010. There has been discussion over the last couple of years of how to reinstate earmarks in a responsible manner. Congressional Institute President Mark Strand penned a column for The Hill in which he lays out how to bring back earmarks the right way.

Titled “How to Reinstate Earmarks Responsibly Without Political Considerations” Strand first takes Members to task for ignoring their Constitutional responsibility. From the oped:

By not directing federal funds to their districts, members of Congress are shirking one of the primary responsibilities given to them by the Constitution – the power of the purse. Congress is a legislative body. It is also the branch of government closest to the people and therefore should be the most familiar with funding needs.

… As the federal representatives closest to the people whom they represent, members of the House are best positioned as the ultimate authorities to know how federal dollars will be most useful and beneficial in their districts.

Strand details three guidelines for how Members can approach earmarks without appearing to have political motivations. Earmarks can be a valuable budgeting tool and can also incentivize Members to participate in the legislative process. Here’s how they can do this, according to the piece:

  • Make member-directed spending proposals an explicit part of authorization bills. This is the most transparent and legitimate way to prevent corruption and backroom deals.
  • Require that earmarks carry the force of law so that the administration cannot arbitrarily override them.
  • There must be transparency and public disclosure. Gone are the days when lawmakers can shift money around behind closed doors.

Strand also addresses the interplay over spending federal dollars between Congress and the Executive House.

Read the full column here.

Want to learn more about Congress? Sign up for the Congressional Institute’s e-newsletter.

Sign up for email updates