U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are taking another shot at permanently banning legislative “earmarks,” the process of Congress allocating money to specific projects.
“I think it [earmarks] is a gateway drug and I fear a relapse,” McCaskill told POLITICO. “Many of our leaders are former appropriators and I am hearing rumors through the hallways that our leaders, Republican and Democrat, are trying to find a way to bring back earmarks.”
The pair filed legislation that would make permanent what has been a de facto earmark ban in the Senate since Republicans instituted a moratorium in 2011.
The pro-earmark movement has been more evident in the House of Representatives, where Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a former transportation chairman, briefly suggested easing the ban before removing it from consideration earlier this year. House Speaker John Boehner lamented last spring that he had “no grease” to move bills, though the lower chamber kept its ban in place this Congress.
The Senate too has recently bypassed the normal Appropriations process, which had often been used to pack bills with millions for bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure. And though the number of explicit earmarks went from more than 6,000 in the 2005 transportation bill to zero this time around, there are still rumblings about so-called formulaic earmarks.
One example is millions in mass transit money for the Alaska Railroad in the 2012 transportation bill, a lightly used rural system. Toomey admitted it is a gray area that legislators should pay more attention to.
“If someone is using a formulaic approach to ensure that they can single out and define a sole beneficiary, then it’s just an earmark. But if it’s a programmatic priority, that’s exactly what Congress is supposed to be doing,” he said.