When Trump mentioned that we should bring back earmarks, the ears of politicians, activists, and lobbyists alike perked up like a dog hearing a pack of dog treats being opened. Perhaps the return of one of the most underhanded and dirty means of governing would make a comeback.
But Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) isn’t onboard with refilling the swamp that he and his colleagues spent so long trying to drain. Penning an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, Lee railed against the idea of earmarks, calling it “crony corruption.”:
You probably haven’t heard about earmarks lately, thank goodness. Republicans banned them when the Tea Party class came to Washington in 2010 opposed to the crony corruption. Who can forget pork-barrel embarrassments like the “Bridge to Nowhere,” the “Monuments to Me” projects that members got named after themselves, or the turtle tunnel in Florida (yes, it’s a tunnel for turtles)? Earmarks were everything Americans couldn’t stand about Washington – corrupt, wasteful, entitled, and out of touch.
Lee noted that Thursday, a House committee is going to get together and discuss whether or not they wish to bring earmarks back. With Trump reopening the door, politicians are generating excuses to implement earmarks.
“That argument is the dysfunction in Congress over the last seven years,” wrote Lee. “See,” they say, “Congress can’t get anything done anymore. Earmarks may not be great, but they are the industrial lubricant of the sausage-making factory that is Congress, and bringing them back will get the machine working properly again.”
Lee acknowledges that without earmarks, it is much tougher to pass legislation, but the Senator notes that the solution isn’t more wheeling and dealing with what essentially amounts to a bribe. It’s the legislation crafting process and debates taking place in the open where everyone can see and hear it:
The alternative system would be one of transparency, decentralization, and accountability. Representatives and senators would write legislation collaboratively, in the open, forging popular compromises and taking tough votes. Anytime someone says, “What we really need to do is get everyone in a room to hammer out the details,” remember, the Constitution provides for two such rooms: the House and Senate chambers. The reason Congress doesn’t work today is that both party establishments are afraid of the electoral consequences of the public actually seeing a free-wheeling debate they can’t control.
Doing so, argues Lee, would require politicians actually do the hard work of learning about the issues they vote on instead of just allowing party leaders to decide from them, then lead them around like baby ducks. It would make the lives of politicians more difficult, but it would also be a boon for the country they serve.
“The path of transparency and accountability would require members to do the hard work of learning about issues and forming and defending coherent positions,” wrote Lee. “It would be far easier to just let leadership do all the thinking for them and accept the occasional earmark they can tout to constituents back home.”
“But this superficially easy path is what has led us to the highly dysfunctional and divisive status quo,” added Lee. “Earmarks would make life easier for politicians, but worse for the country. That Washington is even considering such a bargain explains why Congress is held in such disdain.”
Lee finished by saying that earmarks are just one more idea Congress will have to ditch before it does its job like it’s supposed to.
“Just say no to the return of Swamp Thing,” he concluded.