In the wake of midterm elections that highlighted the need for fiscal restraint, the House passed a two-year earmarks ban to the delight of many voters. Now, some GOP Reps. have come out in cautious support of certain earmarks, and there are those who believe the moratorium should only last until the American people have a restored confidence in the process.
“I don’t find a problem with me deciding that I want some of the money in the state and tribal assistance grants going to help a community in Idaho rebuild their water system,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), the new chairman of the Interior and Environment spending subcommittee, told The Hill.
“I can make that determination because I know that district better than somebody from the EPA,” he added.
According to The Hill, he's one of a number of congressmen who believe the earmarks process is a necessary part of government -- a necessary part that must be used properly. And a never-ending ban may not be the best way to go about achieving reform of that tool.
Commerce and Justice subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) told The Hill he believes the earmark moratorium should be temporary because a blanket ban limits the ability of lawmakers to make policy. For example, he used a $1 million earmark to create the Iraq Study Group, and because of that got to assign it to an outside group, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. With the ban, he said, now the administration gets the opportunity to assign future studies to whatever group it wants.
Homeland Security subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) said he supports the ban for now, but only until lawmakers figure out how best to reform the process.
“If you look at my past, I’ve always supported earmarks,” Aderholt told The Hill. “I’m not opposed to us putting a moratorium on it until we can get a better handle on how to address it.”
Other congressman shared their thoughts on the issue.
Transportation subcommittee Chairman Tom Latham (R-IA):
“I think there is a constitutional role for members of Congress to be able to decide where the federal government’s dollars go, and certainly members of Congress should have a role in that, but at this point I am very supportive of the moratorium,” he said. “We have got to send a message that this is not business as usual and we need to cut spending.”
Head of the Legislative Branch subcommittee Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL):
“My view is when we look at earmarks, it is a constitutional responsibility to direct spending, but the perception is that it is something we shouldn’t be doing. I don’t know when or if we would do it again,” [...] he said. “Right now, they’re off the table … if it does come back there will have to be some further reforms.”
But to constituents, some of the statements may sound familiar. It's a similar message trumpeted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the end of last year during debate over the pork-filled "omnibus" bill:
In the past, GOP leaders have been hesitant to declare that all earmarks are unnecessary, and that they must be banished forever. Still, by voting last year to ban them for two years, they agreed something had to be done at least in the short term.
The issue for the lawmakers, it seems then, is not about who does or doesn't support earmarks but rather how to use them and how to retrain Congress to use them with restraint. Still, many believe it is a slippery slope: one can almost always justify an earmark for his home district, but when taken collectively, the American people end up fronting the bill for projects that can't be defended to all taxpayers.
For now, the House earmarks ban remains in place, and voters seem happy with it: Congress's approval rating has jumped seven points since the 112th took over. It remains to be seen how long the ban will survive and how Reps -- both Democrat and Republican -- and the public will react if and when it expires.