dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Bring Back Earmarks

February 22nd, 2021 by dk

No one should doubt President Biden’s desire to bring Democrats and Republicans together. His policy positions have shifted over his decades in public life, but he has never wavered in his love for collegiality and his display of magnanimity. I hope the depth of that wellspring will summon Biden’s super power, uniquely suited to this time.

In one way, it’s already happening. The policies his administration has been advocating receive overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans alike across the country. It’s only on Capitol Hill where his initiatives draw Republican shrugs. Here is what could change that. Earmarks may be returning to Congress.

There’s really only one thing that has reliably brought Congresspeople together over the centuries — sending money to constituents. We saw it in the four bipartisan pandemic relief bills passed last year. Legislation always moved more smoothly when the gears were greased with targeted projects for individual lawmakers.

Earmarks have been demonized for decades and forbidden outright since 2011. That should change.

The good governance scolds object to earmarks on two levels — the general and the particular. Broadly speaking, we wish we could redact greed from our leadership’s ranks, not reward it. And some of those rewards were scandalous. We’d be better off without another “bridge to nowhere” made famous by Alaska Rep. Don Young.

What makes us so sure that unending partisan gridlock is better for the country?

After all, we have our own bridge with a disreputable legislative past. Rep. Peter DeFazio secured funding to widen the Ferry Street Bridge shortly after he arrived in Washington. When local activists moved to prevent more traffic funneling into downtown, the money was reallocated to fund the eponymous footbridge into Alton Baker Park.

Can a thin layer of lucre bring back Biden’s dream of bipartisan legislation? I think it’s worth a try. I’m not alone.

The incoming chairs of the Appropriations Committee in both the House and the Senate have signaled that an announcement to reinstate earmarks may be coming soon. It will be rebranded, with some ethical upgrades added.

“Member-directed spending” will be limited to state and local governments and certain nonprofit organizations with quasi-government functions. For-profit companies will not qualify. Organizations with financial ties to the member of Congress will be disallowed. New earmarks will be disclosed, as will its sponsor. The percentage of a spending bill going to member-directed projects will be capped.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro advocated reinstating earmarks in her campaign to become chair of Appropriations. The House Appropriations Committee said as much in a statement released this week. “Chair DeLauro has been clear that she supports Member-directed funding for community projects.”

“Chairman [Sen. Patrick] Leahy has been clear about his intent to restore congressionally directed spending in a transparent and accountable way as part Congress’ constitutional power of the purse,” according to the press secretary for the Senate Appropriations panel.

The return of earmarks will give Biden and his Congressional leaders a powerful tool to reward members for endorsing bills. Will the cure turn out to be worse than the disease? Only time will tell.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.