Music to My Earmark

We have all heard about the bridge to nowhere and shrimp on treadmills, but is that what earmarks are? Money thrown at a district for nonsense? Well, as a lawyer, we are compelled to answer: it depends.

An earmark is, according to a 2007 OMB memo, language that directs funding to go to a specific project, rather than being competitively bid. And after the Bridge to Nowhere debacle, earmarks were banned in 2011.

Now, they’re back but as “community funding”. The Democrats (including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a hero of ours) are working to negotiate a plan for FY2022. The current proposal caps the amount of earmarks at 1% of discretionary spending, limits the number of earmarks to 10 per member and creates an online portal where all earmark requests are publicly available.

While earmarks are, to some, government waste, not everyone is upset at the proposed changes. Since Congress has spending power, the change puts some control of spending back in the legislative branch, rather than all of it being under the control of the executive branch. This, some argue, is better for the people in the Congressional district and voters, who can hold legislators accountable.

The Democrats appear to be supportive of the reinstatement, but Republicans have mixed feelings. A Republican-led bill was introduced in the House and Senate to ban earmarks; there are, at the time of publication, no Democrats on either bill. As FY2022 appropriations bills are still being drafted, the current rules of the House do appear to allow earmarks.