President Trump’s surprising endorsement of congressional earmarks this week spooked the political world. Conservative critics of federal spending were especially flummoxed.
What’s all the fuss about? Here are the four things you need to know about earmarks.
What are earmarks?
“Earmarks” are funds that Congress designates for a specific purpose within a larger federal spending bill. Lawmakers in the past have used earmarks to direct spending to projects in their states and districts, like bridges, museums or roads. Members of both parties historically sought them to win favor with voters, but Congress banned them as wasteful in 2011.
Most legislators valued earmarking despite its unsavory reputation as “pork barrel” spending. Earmarks demonstrated effectiveness in Washington and responsiveness to voters. Earmarking often occurred within federal grant programs and let Congress exercise its power of the purse to direct funds rather than leaving bureaucrats to make those choices.
Occasional boondoggles aside, earmarks typically involved small dollar amounts that funded routine projects popular with many voters. For example, typical earmarks in 2004 included $50,000 to construct a public library in Gordo, Ala., and $100,000 for a senior center in Salt Lake County, Utah. Lawmakers sprinkled similar set-asides into the spending bills Congress wrote to fund the …read more
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