In the post earmark-favor-factory world, my fellow members of Congress are far from fully reformed: The ban has been bent and even broken. But we’re at least debating bigger issues than where to place swimming pools and parking garages.
Many members also now say earmark excesses can be policed and they just want to exercise the power of the purse. But Congress doesn’t need pork to do its job of setting priorities. Congress’s power of the purse is the most underutilized power in Washington not because of the earmark ban, but because Congress is unwilling to do the hard work of passing appropriations bills, drafting clear legislation that tells bureaucrats what to do, and then conducting oversight over the programs it creates.
Bringing back earmarks now would hardly change that. We haven’t passed our annual spending bills in eight years, long before we gave up pork, and we’re unlikely to return to regular order before the midterm elections. With U.S. debt at $17 trillion and counting, restoring earmarks in today’s Congress would be like opening a bar tab for a bunch of recovering alcoholics.