Congress isn’t accomplishing much lately, but Senate Republicans deserve credit for one thing they aren’t doing: Restoring the practice of earmarks. The Senate Republican conference on Thursday adopted a permanent ban on such parochial handouts, an effort led by Nebraska’s Ben Sasse.
Earmarks in the early 2000s were a hardy perennial in appropriations bills, from defense to transportation. The 11 appropriations bills for 2006 included $29 billion in earmarked spending across some 9,963 projects, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. The classic of the genre was Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.”
Republicans suffered as earmarks became a symbol of corruption and waste. Recall Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Duke Cunningham, who went to prison. Chastened Republicans campaigned in 2010 on an earmark ban and they’ve mostly stayed on the wagon.
Yet some Republicans have been nostalgic for better times that never existed. President Trump waxed last year about the “great friendliness” when earmarks ruled. The claim is that earmarks make it easier to pass legislation, and this might be a worthwhile conservative trade if it meant Congress could pull together majorities for, say, something big like entitlement reform. Slices of pork would supposedly be the grease for difficult but essential reform that would shrink the burden of government. In our observation, the opposite is closer to the truth: Earmarks grease the skids for bigger government.
None of today’s gridlock would be overcome by earmarks. Democrats aren’t going to give President Trump a political victory in return for a local courthouse. A bike path in Portland wouldn’t have won the vote of Maine Senator Susan Collins to repeal ObamaCare.
Earmarks aren’t the biggest spending problem in Washington, but any incentive not to spend more is welcome.
—The Wall Street Journal