On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate will decide whether to follow Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s lead and keep its moratorium on earmarks. Some senators hope to lift the ban that has been in place since 2011 and restart the earmark favor factory. That would be an enormous mistake.
Last week, President-elect Trump effectively stopped a move by House Republicans who wanted to rein in the troubled Office of Congressional Ethics. It was the right fight at the wrong time, and Trump’s tweets played a major role in scuttling the effort. Trump needs to do the same on earmarks.
Some language Trump should consider:
“If Congress sends me bills with pork I’ll send them back Veto”
“Nancy Pelosi wants to bring back pork so she can increase the value of her husband’s properties. Sad!”
“Head clown Chuck Schumer wants more money for his Woodstock museum. Republicans shouldn’t give him a dime DrainTheSwamp”
“The losers in Congress want to bring back pork after millions of Americans just voted for change. No way!”
“Congress should be looking for news ways to save money, not new ways to spend money. Don’t be dumb. DrainTheSwamp”
“As president I’ll be asking Congress to build bridges to somewhere, not Bridges to Nowhere.”
If President Trump is serious about draining the swamp and prioritizing infrastructure projects that grow the economy instead of a politician’s campaign coffers, he can’t afford to be silent.
In 2014, when the Senate was seriously considering removing the ban, then U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wrote in the Wall Street Journal that restoring earmarks would be like “opening a bar tab for a bunch of recovering alcoholics.”
The porkers’ core argument — that Congress needs earmarks to pass good bills that wouldn’t pass otherwise — is ludicrous. Pork crowds out higher priority needs. On transportation bills, for instance, the Transportation Department’s Inspector General told us in 2007 that the presence of earmarks meant members’ pet projects were funded ahead of more important projects such as repairing structurally deficient bridges, which now number 63,000 or 10% of our nation’s bridges. There is a higher chance the bridge you cross today on your way to work could collapse thanks in part to Congress’s legacy of perverse priorities.
Members like to say they know their district’s needs best but they are most skilled at putting their political needs first. Plus, we already have an institution dedicated to local projects. It is called local government …
The last major piece of legislation whose passage was greased with pork was the Affordable Care Act, a bill even ardent supporters like former Democratic Sen. Max Baucus admit was a poorly constructed “train wreck.”
Coburn also said earmarks were the “gateway drug” to Congress’s spending addiction. He was right. After the earmark ban was enacted, spending decreased from $3.46 trillion to 2010 to $3.45 trillion in 2013.
Coburn also refuted his colleagues who suggested earmarks had always been with us when earmarks reached ridiculous levels just a few years ago. In 1987, President Reagan vetoed a bill that contained 121 earmarks. By 2006, Congress was funding 16,000 earmarks.
As I argue here, Congress has an opportunity to use regular order to improve the effectiveness of programs and make people’s lives better while saving money. Bringing back earmarks would undermine this process while enraging and demoralizing voters who are giving Republicans a chance to win their trust.
In this piece from Stephen Dinan at the Washington Times, Coburn describes his colleagues as “very tone-deaf.”
It’s time for the president-elect to log on to Twitter and make Congress listen.
John Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.