by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
There is now discussion of reviving earmarks: the practice, banned in the House of Representatives since 2010, of inserting funding for lawmakers’ pet projects into bills to secure their support. Earmarks epitomize the obsequious logrolling that makes Washington the most hated place in the nation (on earth?) — and their absence has proved crucial to the Republican effort to restrain government spending, one of the great untold success stories of the past eight years. That Republicans would even suggest earmarks should be restored reveals at best an unsophisticated grasp of spending mechanisms, and at worst a complete abandonment of the victories the party has scored in restraining Washington’s spendthrift instincts.
It is often forgotten what two years of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid triumvirate augured for the size of government. Federal spending, which had generally held steady around 20 percent of GDP in the modern era, was projected to rise to more than 26 percent of GDP by 2020 after just two years of Democratic control.
House Republicans, driven to power by Americans who recoiled at this looming threat of unstable government growth, promised to turn this around. And they did: Through dogged spending cuts in bimonthly continuing resolutions, and then with the imposition of budget caps in the Budget Control Act in August of 2011, Republicans erased the spending legacy of the Pelosi- and Reid-led Congress, which only a few years earlier had been eyed wearily as the new normal. Today federal spending stands at about 21 percent of GDP.
Another important development that aided Republicans’ fiscal revolution: durable changes to House rules that started to tilt the institution’s operational bias away from spending and in favor of more restraint. Notably, the banning of earmarks.