Or, at least, on their way back.
This is a sneaky big deal. And a massive win for party leaders of both parties.
Following the 2010 midterm elections in which Republicans seized control of the House, incoming Speaker John Boehner moved to ban them. “This earmark ban shows the American people we are listening and we are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington,” Boehner said at the time.
Again, it all makes sense. Until you realize that in taking away earmarks, Boehner robbed party leaders of their most potent weapon to keep their rank-and-file in line on key votes.
It’s no coincidence that the House Freedom Caucus, originally formed in response to the Tea Party movement that drove Republicans into the majority in 2010, became a dominant force within GOP politics over the time Boehner spent as leader — and eventually drove him for the speakership. Without the ability to dole out (and withhold) projects in members’ districts, Boehner lost all control of his conference. Ditto Paul Ryan, who followed Boehner in the speaker’s chair.
Members were suddenly free to do whatever they wanted. They no longer felt the need to get in line with the party on, well, anything. And with the rise of the Internet as a fundraising tool, which dovetailed with the earmark ban, suddenly it was every man and woman for themselves. Party leaders — especially on the Republican side — became leaders in name only. They were entirely beholden to the whims of the fringes of their rank-and-file; they had neither the carrot nor the stick to convince wayward members to come back to the bargaining table.
“Like campaign contributions and smoke-filled rooms, pork is a tool of democratic governance, not a violation of it. It can be used for corrupt purposes but also, very often, for vital ones. As the political scientist Diana Evans wrote in a 2004 book, Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress, ‘The irony is this: pork barreling, despite its much maligned status, gets things done.’ In 1964, to cite one famous example, Lyndon Johnson could not have passed his landmark civil-rights bill without support from House Republican leader Charles Halleck of Indiana, who named his price: a NASA research grant for his district, which LBJ was glad to provide. Just last year, Republican Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asked how his committee managed to pass bipartisan authorization bills year after year, even as the rest of Congress ground to a legislative standstill. In part, McCain explained, it was because ‘there’s a lot in there for members of the committees.'”
If you want bipartisanship and bills to actually pass Congress, you want earmarks to come back. It’s Congress’ secret sauce.
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