Following reports that U.S. House leaders are considering efforts to bring back congressional earmarks (by which taxpayer dollars are doled out for lawmakers’ pet projects, not based on merit or competition), U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the Senate’s leading Democratic opponent of earmarks, issued the following statement:
“Earmarks are the swampiest of swamp creatures—and there’s no reason they should be brought back to life. We got rid of earmarks to help strengthen Missourians’—and all Americans’—confidence that their tax dollars are being protected from waste, and I’m not going to let us go back to the pork-barrel patronage we had before. I strongly urge the members of the U.S. House to reject any efforts to return to those days.”
For years, the earmarking process was notorious for its secrecy and lack of oversight or accountability, with funding for politicians’ pet projects often awarded based on political influence instead of on merit.
Days after President Trump was elected in 2016 with a promise to “drain the swamp,” reports surfaced that U.S. House Republicans were headed into a secret meeting to attempt to bring back congressional earmarks. McCaskill, who has never requested any earmarks and has consistently opposed the practice, called on Missouri’s U.S. House delegation to reject such a vote, and pledged to use Senate rules to strip any earmarks that emerge from the U.S. House. After McCaskill’s efforts, House Republican leadership canceled the vote.
McCaskill has led the fight to permanently ban earmarks from the legislative process. After working with her colleagues to establish a temporary ban on earmarks, McCaskill and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania introduced the Earmark Elimination Act, which would expand the ongoing temporary moratorium on earmarks to a permanent ban. Specifically, the legislation would ban all earmarks, and define earmarks as any congressionally directed spending item, limited tax benefit, or limited tariff benefit.
And a provision included in a recent highway bill, based on legislation McCaskill introduced with Republican Senator Jeff Flake, is allowing Missouri to claw back more than $72 million in previously unspent earmarked funds that would never have otherwise been used – giving the state the resources to spend on critically needed transportation and infrastructure projects within a 50-mile radius of the project site of the original earmark.