What Ryan doesn’t mention is that restoring earmarks could make his job easier, and Trump’s, too. The speaker has put an emphasis on returning to “regular order” in the House by passing individual appropriations bills to fund the government rather than packaging them all together in one giant omnibus that conservatives hate. But just like Boehner before him, Ryan has struggled to realize that goal, and one reason is that appropriations bills are exactly the vehicles in which legislative leaders once routinely doled out earmarks as carrots to secure the votes for passage.
Trump, of course, has proposed broad ethics reforms to restrict lobbying and enact term limits. Neither of those ideas has much chance of winning approval from the men and women who would be most negatively affected by them. Members of Congress frequently become lobbyists after they leave office, and previous attempts to impose term limits have gone nowhere on Capitol Hill. Another priority of the president-elect’s, however, is a major infrastructure bill. Like appropriations measures, legislation to authorize the construction of roads and bridges has been ripe for earmarking in the past, and there is often no surer way to get fiscal hawks to support deficit-busting spending than to make sure there are goodies in it for them.
Outside groups have quickly denounced the push to revive earmarks, seeing it as evidence that Republicans are reverting to old ways and getting too comfortable with their power in Congress. According to FreedomWorks, the GOP-led House and Senate in 2005 approved a total of 14,000 earmarks totaling $27 billion. “The American people made it crystal clear last week that it is time to drain the swamp in Washington—that includes keeping in place the ban on congressional earmarks,” said Jim DeMint, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former South Carolina senator. “Legislative earmarking was a lynchpin of Washington’s crony system—a favorite of the politically and financially well-connected, it wasted huge amounts of money.” Citizens Against Government Waste, the nonpartisan group that highlights egregious spending in an annual “pig book,” fired off a letter to lawmakers expressing its “vehement opposition” to the resurrection of earmarks.