Bring on the Pork!

Homer Welcomes the Return of Pork Barrel SpendingI tweeted this earlier but in case you are walled out by their subscriber paywall, here’s a fair use except of an interesting article in the Legal Times from yesterday concerning the possible return of Congressional earmarks. An earmark is a legislative provision that allows members to direct approved funds for specific projects, usually to a particular organization or project in their home state or district. Earmarks are popularly portrayed as pork-barrel spending and often cited as a corrupting influence on our politics. The practice became enough of a public relations liability that the House instituted a ban on the practice in 2010, and the Senate soon followed suit. Now some lobbyists (who obviously have a vested interest in this) are going around telling people it might come back:

Former Republican Congressman James Walsh, now at K&L Gates, has predicted that federal earmarks could return to Congress next year. The change could revive the lobbying industry and spark a now-stagnant Congress by giving it more discretionary power after the mid-term elections Tuesday, he said during a webinar sponsored by his firm.

“I think it would make things move better up there,” he said. A highway funding plan, he added, could revive the earmark—a legislative procedure that ended in 2010.

His prediction was among many shared by a K&L Gates panel of former members of Congress and a top lobbyist Monday.

Despite earmarks’ bad reputation, there are some who have argued that an outright ban of the practice was actually a bad idea, claiming it has actually decreased transparency in the appropriations process and shifted the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches too far to the executive. Others argue that the ban removed who a useful tool for lawmakers to have at their disposal as a way to broker deals on legislation.

In the case of adult education, would the return of Congressional  earmarks provide advocates with more leverage over the administration on how money on adult education is spent? I have no idea. I do suspect that without strong, knowledgeable advocacy from the field, Congress could also come up with some really bad ways to earmark adult education funds. But it seems to me the opportunity for leverage is almost always a good thing to have. Right now the administration calls all the shots, and I’m not sure that Congressional language “urging” the Department to “increase the focus on adults with the lowest literacy and numeracy skills” or “work with national adult literacy organizations,” as they did in the FY 2014 omnibus budget bill, is taken that seriously.