House and Senate Democrats have pushed them for years. House Republicans embraced them this month, and Senate Republicans are “torn” over their return. You’d think that this much bipartisan consensus reflected broad popularity among constituents for earmarks and pork, but Morning Consult’s latest survey shows just the opposite:
House Republicans’ decision last week to join their Democratic colleagues in reinstating the use of earmarks in funding bills divided their caucus, and new polling shows most of the party’s voters are siding with the detractors.
In a new Morning Consult/Politico survey, 56 percent of GOP voters said they opposed the decision by both House Democrats and Republicans to restore earmarks, which were described as the “previously banned practice of including provisions in bills that direct public funds to specific recipients such as individual congressional districts.” Forty percent of Republicans “strongly oppose” the move, more than twice the share (15 percent) who support it.
It’s not just Republicans who oppose the corrupting influence of earmarking, however. It’s a broadly unpopular move, with only 19% of overall voters supporting the pork-barrel practice, and a plurality of 43% opposed. Even among Democrats, only 27% support the idea with opposition narrowly edging it out at 31%. Forty-one percent of Democrats and independents are unsure, but it’s even less popular among independents than among Republicans, with only 12% supporting earmarks and near-majority of 47% opposing them.
Morning Consult notes that these numbers are actually slightly worse than its last survey produced on earmarking. Republican voters are even more opposed after the House Republicans caved to earmarking. Now the Senate GOP caucus has to decide whether to follow suit, and The Hill describes them as “torn” on the issue. The conservatives’ lips say no no no, but the appropriators’ eyes say yes:
With House Republicans voting last week to join congressional Democrats in supporting the return of the federal spending, which allows members to secure money for specific projects back home, the Senate Republican Conference is now the odd person out on Capitol Hill.
But there are sharp lines of division about the path forward, with conservatives pledging to fight any decision by leadership to return to earmarks and top appropriators signaling a willingness to reengage.
“I don’t know, it’s controversial over here. We have people with strong views on both ways,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said when asked what his colleagues would do in the wake of the House decision.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during a recent interview with Fox News, signaled that members of his caucus would take a hard line, saying earmarks were “very unpopular among Republicans.”
No — they’re very unpopular among Americans. Everyone knows why they’re popular on Capitol Hill, however. Ted Cruz summed it up well:
“Earmarks played a major role in the out-of-control spending that we have in Washington, and they play a major role entrenching the swamp,” Cruz told reporters.
Earmarks in theory allow Congress to control spending rather than federal agencies. In practice, however, it’s a corruption engine and incumbent-protection process. Appropriators want earmarks because they make appropriators far more powerful, able to do favors for allies and punish their foes regardless of party. Pork allows incumbents to buy voters, and then bind members to grotesquely large spending bills they would otherwise oppose.
Those are the reasons Americans detest earmarks. And the enthusiasm for them on Capitol Hill is one of the reasons Americans detest Congress and the Beltway. Why Republicans want to buy into that and eliminate one of the last remaining distinctions between the two parties is anyone’s guess.
Update: The Hill reports that a new conservative oppo-research group recently infiltrated congressional Zoom meetings on earmarks. They’re putting the videos out to embarrass earmark advocates.
That’s apparently as easy as shooting fish in a barrel:
In a recent Zoom training for congressional staffers, a House Appropriations Committee aide tells participants that while “the optics” of a lawmaker steering an earmark to a campaign donor “look kind of bad,” the project could still be allowed under House rules so long as no family members are involved.
“I think what you’re saying is if you have somebody who’s building a [military construction] project, and his company contributes to your boss’s campaign, is that a conflict of interest?” Appropriations Deputy Staff Director Matt Washington told House staffers during the training.
“I think the optics are bad but the rules of the House would be sufficed because there is no immediate family interest,” Washington said.
That includes a Newspeak term for earmarks:
The AAF said it gained access to the private trainings from a House lawmaker and then pressed DeLauro staffers on hypothetical situations about earmarks while posing as congressional aides. The group recorded the trainings and has since posted them online.
While the private advice from DeLauro staffers appeared to be consistent with the Appropriations panel’s public guidance on earmarks, the frank discussions over potential conflicts of interest and the public’s perception highlight the potential pitfalls for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who request pet projects for their home districts — commonly known as earmarks — but what DeLauro and appropriators have now rebranded as “community project funding.”
You can find the AAF’s YouTube page here, but let’s leave readers with the Washington standard, in more ways than one: