A tax reform victory does not mean that Washington DC is working again. Immigration reform, federal budget and appropriation, health care and a range of other issues are a constant political struggle for the President and the Congress. President Donald Trump, who defines unpredictable threw out a unique idea as to how to promote bi-partisan cooperation—re-establishment of federal budget earmarks.
Trump during a recent meeting with Congressional leaders publicly suggested the return of federal budget earmarks to the budget process. Trump’s idea is catching much attention. Congressman Pete Sessions, Chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, is holding a House committee hearing on the potential for enacting federal budget earmarks.
Earmarks were banned by the Congress in 2011 following public controversies surrounding passage of several earmarks that lack solid public policy goals. Federal budget earmarks were Congressional directed spending requests for specific projects within federal agency budgets. Examples of federal budget earmarks include:
- Hospitals seeking operational funding for programs worthy of proving to be a national model;
- Universities seeking research funding for cutting edge projects; and
- Communities seeking infrastructure funding for water, sewer and highway projects.
Advocates for the return of earmarks point to several arguments. First, earmarks do not add funding to an agency’s budget. Instead, an earmark is simply the Congress directing an agency how to spend their money. Either the Congress is going to direct an agency how to spend their resources or the agency staff is going to make allocation decisions on their own. Earmarks are about how to spend federal money not how much federal money to spend; thus, they don’t impact increased the federal budget deficit. Earmarks, as President Trump noted, promote both parties to work together to pass a federal budget. Unless a Congressman has a major federal facility in their district or state, it is challenging to gather votes for Congressional budgets. No matter who is in charge of the Congress, Democrats and Republicans are focused on turning out more of their voter base not appealing to Independent voters. Thus, bi-partisanship is struggling when it comes to governing. Earmarks go to both parties with the majority party receiving slightly more. Earmarks in a federal budget push regional partnerships between members of Congress and push many Democrats and Republicans to vote for the federal budget.
Hospitals, universities, communities are others are openly advocating for the return of federal budget earmarks and it will be interesting to see what the Congress does with Trump’s latest unconventional suggestion to promote bi-partisanship.