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Monday, February 14, 2011

Earmarks as Lubricant

In our chapter on Congress, we discuss targeted expenditures, or earmarks. In his weekly address, the president promised to veto any bill that contains earmarks:

But as Eliza Newlin Carney writes at National Journal, earmarks have sometimes served a purpose in the legislative process:

As House conservatives push for ever-deeper spending cuts, a tough question confronts GOP leaders: What sweetener will convince their rank and file to swallow bitter budget medicine?

In the past, that sweetener would have been earmarks, the local pork barrel projects that lawmakers could trumpet to constituents back home. Now earmarks are gone, or at least drastically curtailed, banished first by Republicans and more recently by President Obama and Senate Democrats.


“You need certain tools to make legislation flow, and this was a great tool,” said former Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., now a government affairs counselor at the law firm of K&L Gates. Walsh should know: He served 16 years on the House Appropriations Committee and chaired four Appropriations subcommittees while on Capitol Hill. Earmarks “always get criticized,” Walsh added. “But if you’re in the room making sausage, you need to round up votes.”

Indeed, research suggests that “when members get an earmark, they are more likely to vote for the appropriations bill,” said Diana Evans, a professor of political science at Trinity College in Connecticut and author of “Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress.”


For some lobbying firms that helped create the earmarks boom, such as Cassidy & Associates, the moratorium already represents the end of an era. The firm has lost its chief executive and let go of some 20 percent of its staff amid a restructuring.

But lobbyists aren’t the only ones disappointed to see earmarks go. Many lawmakers have supported the ban only very reluctantly. GOP House leaders, in particular, might soon wish they had a few more carrots to hand out with their budget sticks. Said Evans: “I don’t think we’re going to see an end of targeted expenditures.”