Reid Goes On Record For Earmarks

Earmark reform is a hot topic on Capitol Hill and in the advocacy community. Earlier this week, Senator Reidcommented on the need to repeal the ban on earmarks.  This is not a new sentiment for many members of the House and Senate.  What is new is for a congressional leader to actually say OUT LOUD that he embraces earmarks and wants them back.

Another recent article in the Washington Post outlined how some members are trying to get things done for their constituents in the face of the earmark ban.  This particular article described how one Republican from Nevada is trying to use the appropriations process to overturn a ban on government conventions in Reno and Las Vegas.  Wonder if the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce asked for help on this item, as this is not a trivial matter for Nevadans?  The idea of using the appropriations process to legislate, again, is not new.  But, using appropriations in this way is new to many members, a majority of whom have never seen the funding process work in a normal fashion, without Continuing Resolutions and Omnibus bills.

I also find it interesting that some believe the most pressing issue for many lobbyists is not earmarks, but the demise of the Highway Trust fund.  This is the fund that receives the federal gasoline tax and then doles the money back out to the states on a formula basis for the building and maintenance of the country’s road systems.  Brian Faler of Politico has an article (behind a paywall) that details why every lobbyist in town is concerned that their clients may be tasked with bailing out the Highway Trust Fund which is slated to go broke over the summer.  As one of Faler’s sources says, “members like highway bills.”  Probably enough to make someone else have to pay for them!

As earmarks have officially gone away (but note that Citizens Against Government Waste claim there are still 109 earmarks in the FY14 Omnibus), the appropriations process has broken, and lobbyists have moved from disclosing what they are trying to get, to hiding behind legislative proposals and playing defense.  It will be interesting to see if Reid’s pronouncement in favor of congressional direction of fundinggets any traction.  The question is whether those who agree with the need to reform the system and allow Congress to have more of a voice will actually advocate for just that. My guess is no.

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Mark Harkins is a Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute

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