OUR OPINION: Continue the conversation about reforming earmarks

By NEMS Daily Journal

New conversations among some in Congress about the usefulness of earmarks in the broader view of the legislative process is an encouraging hint that representatives and senators might be willing to revisit the long-practiced appropriations method, banned temporarily after the 2010 elections.
A Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, broached the issue after repeated attempts to pass a new transportation funding bill in the House failed.
Reuters reported that “in a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans,” Rogers recommended reviving the practice that became “politically toxic” a year ago, largely because of the promises made by Tea Party Republicans, and pressure applied to others, to stop the practice, which opponents claim was a chronic budget buster and source of deficit spending.
Not everyone agrees.
Rogers, a 10-year veteran first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues to bring back the practice.
Earmarks are “directed spending” with money in budgets already approved, as required by the Constitution, but specified by individual senators and representatives, usually for projects or programs in their states. Mississippians, after gaining seniority, historically had been masterful appropriators in both parties under the earmarks system. Some measures rank Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both Republicans, among the best earmark tacticians in history. Their ability to direct spending to Mississippi – which ranged from investments in universities’ research and facilities, to highways to national defense spending, was not what’s often called “pork barrel” funds.
“I just got up … and did it because I was mad because they were talking about how we can’t get 218 votes,” Rogers told Reuters, referring to the minimum of 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the 435-member House. “There was a lot of applause when I made my comments. I had a few freshmen boo me, but that’s okay. By and large it was very well embraced.”
Cochran, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, told Reuters, “At some point there will surely be conversations about alternatives” to the earmark ban, but added that he has not tried to start the conversation.
Nevertheless, the conversation apparently has started, and it should be encouraged.
It’s not likely to become very audible or very public during a presidential election year, but the press of high-profile, unresolved federal spending issues could push its reconsideration in 2013.
All earmarks aren’t equal, and arguably some earmarks produced little, if any benefit.
Both sides agree generally that reforms are essential, but reforms can be accomplished without a repeal and a loss of the constructive investment many earmarks afforded.