Earmarks are BACK!

We’ve been around long enough to understand the role of earmarks on the trail and transportation system. Now is the right time to put together your priority list of projects and start communication with your member of congress.

From Politico’s Morning Transportation Newsletter on 11/23/2020:

House Democrats are planning to bring back earmarks next year, the chamber’s second-in-command Steny Hoyer told Roll Call in an interview on Friday. After the next Appropriations Committee chair is chosen (all of the candidates are on board with bringing back earmarks), they’ll begin soliciting House lawmakers to “ask for congressional initiatives for their districts and their states,” Hoyer said. It will be the first time earmarks have been in effect since they were banned by Speaker John Boehner in 2011.

Additional details: “I expect that the House will pursue safe, transparent, and accountable Congressionally-directed spending in the next Congress,” Hoyer said in a statement to MT. He added that a return to earmarks is “critical to reasserting Congress’s constitutional power of the purse while making Congress work better and restoring the kind of comity we used to experience in the House.” A spokesperson for House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio said he “is fully supportive of bringing earmarks back.”

In transportation: The Congressional Research Service has a handy guide updated earlier this year on how transportation funding worked before and after the Boehner ban. Earmarks “directed a significant amount of federal transportation spending prior to the ban,” it says, although it largely doesn’t affect formula funds, which make up the majority of DOT’s output. One inspector general report found that in fiscal 2006, approximately 13 percent of DOT’s total budgetary resources were earmarked.

The ban gave DOT more power to decide how to spend its discretionary funds. “If Congress does not act in other ways to set funding priorities within the discretionary programs, then the job of setting priorities is left to DOT, subject to the grant selection criteria set forth in law and regulation,” the CRS report says. Bringing back earmarks, or “congressionally directed spending” as they’re sometimes called, would return that power to the Hill.

The argument for earmarks: They allow members of Congress to directly legislate for investment in projects that would do the most for their district, and they give lawmakers another way to find compromise that could make the legislative process smoother.

The argument against: They’re potentially a pathway to corruption. Take the case of Duke Cunningham, who was a California representative until 2005 and went to prison for eight years after being paid off by defense contractors to slide favorable earmarks into spending bills.

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