A Modest Earmark Proposal

[ Posted Thursday, April 1st, 2021 – 12:54 UTC ]

There's going to be a big difference in Congress soon, one that will likely first impact the infrastructure package just unveiled by President Joe Biden. Because after many years in the wilderness, earmarks are back!

Earmarks, for those who either never knew about them in the first place or had forgotten all about them during their period of dormancy, refer to money for pet projects inserted into massive budget bills by individual members of Congress. You may know it better by the more colloquial (and porcine) expressions: "bringing home the bacon," or, to its detractors: "pork-barrel spending." No matter what part of the rhetorical pig you favor, though, it's all just individual congressional districts feeding at the federal money trough.

[Editorial note: Maybe I should have eaten before writing this, some hunger seems to have slipped into the narrative somehow....]

In any case, earmarks used to be a method for a lowly House member to get a modest amount of federal funding dedicated to specific projects in their home district -- a new freeway interchange, a bridge, a museum, whatever -- which could then be used quite effectively the next time campaign season rolled around. This usually involved campaign ads shot right in front of the museum/bridge/whatever with the congressman earnestly saying to the camera: "This is what I got done for the people in my district -- I am an effective lawmaker!" You can see how handy this comes in, for incumbents.

Which is why earmarks used to be wildly popular. So popular, in fact, that their use just completely got out of hand. Instead of a few hundred earmarks per bill, all of a sudden it was in the tens of thousands of earmarks per bill. Abuse reigned, especially since earmarks could be inserted completely anonymously. The practice got so out of control that it became a political issue, and both parties were then forced to swear off the practice and write it out of the rules.

After an interregnum of sorts with absolutely no earmarks, however, Congress is realizing why they were such a valuable tool in the first place. It has almost been forgotten, but this used to be the way to entice votes from across the aisle on things like infrastructure bills. "You don't want to vote for it? Well, how about if we add that $300 million Outer Podunk Bypass that you've been trying to move in committee? Would that change your mind?" Not too surprisingly, often, it would.

Earmarks can lead to bipartisanship, in other words. Which is why it will indeed be interesting to see if their reanimation will convince any recalcitrant Republicans to vote for any of Biden's budget bills. If the name of the game is: "play along and you get some pork, or don't and miss out," perhaps it'll actually work.

At least, that's what I thought until today. Now, I'm not so sure, because the new plan seems a wee bit foolhardy. Up until now, the plan was to reform the earmark process in two significant ways. The first would be to limit them to only one percent of the overall cost of the bill. Biden's first infrastructure plan has a $2.3 trillion price tag, so that would mean only $23 billion of it could pay for all the earmarks, combined. Seeing as how there are 535 members of Congress, when you divide it out that's not actually all that much available to any single one of them. That would be a big limiting factor.

Furthermore, any lawmaker requesting an earmark would have to not only do so publicly (so everyone knew who was asking for what, unlike before), but they would also have to swear that neither they nor their family or friends would be personally benefitting from the earmark. This, obviously, would avoid corruption and nepotism and favoritism, at least to some degree.

But today, Nancy Pelosi unveiled the actual rules change she is proposing, in the form of a new bill. Surprisingly, the percentages have been reversed. Now only one percent of spending bills will be directed from the White House, and an astounding 99 percent will be directly spent on earmarks.

In explaining this dramatic shift, Pelosi explained that since each member of Congress knew how best to help their own district, they had all agreed that "the 99 percent" should have all the power, as Bernie Sanders has long advocated, and that, for once, "the one percent" should be the ones left out in the cold. The new bill is called the "Act Providing Reinvestment In Localities; For Overhauling Our Legislature."

But, of course, as with all long-winded bill names, everyone will most likely soon start referring to it by its acronym.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


12 Comments on “A Modest Earmark Proposal”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    You had me there, right up to the 99% change. Thanks!

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I tole you once, I tole ya twice, Biden was made for this!

  4. [4] 
    SF Bear wrote:

    Very Clever Mr. Chris, very clever.

  5. [5] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Good one, Chris! And speaking of infrastructure, have you seen the proposal, reported in the Guardian yesterday, for a 2nd Suez Canal?

  6. [6] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Booo! Ya had me going!

    Also, nice use of the word interregnum! Are you a fan of comedian Michael Ian Black by any chance?

  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Now that April 1 is past us, can we get on to serous foolishness?

    I’m talking Daughter Gaetz....

    Because by time honored tradition, every great government scandal must have a ‘gate’ in it.

  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:

    The National Political Storm Center reports Gaetz made landfall on Tucker Carlson during the news hour. Floridians should be prepared for windy rhetoric and a surge of revulsion.

  9. [9] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Maybe the reason April fools jokes like this about the Deathocrats are so effective is that it happens all year long without the April fools admission at the end.

    It's like they made a sequel to Groundhog Day where we wake up day after day, year after year, decade after decade to April Fools Day.

    Except in this sequel when we wake up the next morning the people that died are still dead and we don't get another chance to do things right.

    Kinda takes the fun out of it.

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Do you ANY self awareness? Every post you make is a repeat of the post you made the day before. You should also avoid reference to the movie Ground Hog Day.

  11. [11] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Every post is a repeat of the post the day before?

    Yes it is. It is a repeat of exposing the propaganda in the article the comment is posted on.

    When something different is in the articles I will provide comments based on that.

    You are apparently only aware of what you want to be aware of.

  12. [12] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    A tilter gotta tilt...

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