Democrats plan to bring back earmarks. Ready the pork barrel!

If you don’t believe in zombies, you may want to rethink your position because some of the most disgusting relics of the past are clearly able to rise up from the grave and stalk the land again. Nearly a decade ago, under the leadership of then-Speaker John Boehner, we finally got rid of earmarks in Congress, significantly reducing the ages-old practice of pork-barrel politics. Amazingly, it turned out to be something that both Democrats and Republicans were able to get behind and it seemed generally popular with the public. But now that Joe Biden is coming back to town and the Democrats appear poised to cling to the majority in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is telling people that earmarks may be coming back again. And he’s acting as if it’s the most natural and expected thing in the world. (Roll Call)

“I don’t expect it to be a partisan effort. Now that doesn’t mean that everybody does participate,” [Hoyer] said. “But I know there are a lot of Republicans on our side and a lot of Republicans on the Senate side who want to . . . have the ability to invest in their states.”

Democrats and Republicans have been talking about bringing back earmarks since just after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, added a ban to House GOP rules in 2011. Senate Democrats followed a few months later with the support of President Barack Obama.

Senate Republicans made their earmark prohibition permanent last year, but several party members, including Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., support bringing the practice back.

That’s a charming way to describe it, isn’t it? “Have the ability to invest in their states.”

This is the same old song and dance we used to hear from most of the swamp creatures in D.C. (and I’m talking about both parties here, to be clear) when people complained about the corrosive nature of the earmark system. The reality, of course, is that all of the states receive federal funding for any number of purposes each year. But no one member of either chamber – particularly the House where all spending bills must originate – has sole discretion over how and where taxpayer money is spent. These are joint decisions that must be voted on and approved by the entire body.

In reality, those “investments” generally involved cash payments funded unwittingly by the taxpayers to buy the votes of reluctant members. And, in turn, those earmarked funds wound up going home to curry favor from influential local interests and to pay for projects that benefitted party cronies.

They also provided decades worth of material for bloggers and satirists as the cash so frequently wound up paying for bridges to nowhere or federally funded studies into why prisoners try to escape from jail. It’s not that the total number of earmarks generally added all that much debt onto an already massively bloated budget process, but it was more the principle of the thing. And once it was finally gone, I foolishly thought that it would fade into history as a lesson we had finally learned.

Perhaps not. It sounds as if the Democratic majority is ready to push its collective snout back into the trough with abandon and there are plenty of Republicans willing to go along with the scheme. If this is a sign of how the next two to four years are going to play out, let’s just say that I’m not feeling all that inspired or hopeful at the moment.

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