Even under an existing moratorium, earmarks have received a lot of attention in the media, in Congress, and around the water cooler in recent years. But despite the interest there is a good deal of disagreement about the definition of earmark, the role of earmarking in the budget process, whether it is an appropriate use of Congress's time, and whether earmarks serve the interests of taxpayers.
Earmarks reflect a broken budget process. Too often earmarks reward parochial interests at the expense of national needs. The earmarking process also often subverts established merit-based, competitive, or formula-driven budget processes without debate. Ultimately earmarks may fund projects many people consider “good” projects, but the earmark process does not guarantee these are the most beneficial and worthwhile projects.
Reforms to the earmarking process began in 2007 with new transparency rules disclosing the name of the lawmaker sponsoring the earmark for the first time. Additional reforms were adopted until a moratorium took hold in 2011 and was recently extended.
After the number of earmarks quintupled to more than 15,000 between 1996 and 2005 and several scandals, Congress knew the public was fed up. So, once the Democrats took control in 2007, they instituted a series of reforms intended to make earmarks more transparent and accountable. For the first time, Congress actually disclosed their earmarks. While we as taxpayers still had to dig through legislation to find any hidden treasures buried by lawmakers, disclosure was a step in the right direction.
When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they went a step further and adopted a moratorium on earmarks. The President echoed the same in his State of the Union that year, declaring, “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it.” Senate Republicans also adopted a moratorium, which led Senate Democrats to decide they would not pursue earmarks in the 112th Congress. Both of the recent Republican nominees for President, Senator McCain and Governor Romney, opposed earmarks as well.
At Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), we have been bringing transparency and accountability to the federal budget since our founding in 1995. Part of this work involves explaining and advocating for earmark reform. In the years of transparency (fiscal years 2008-10), TCS created extensive databases with all of the earmark data and has made this information available to the public. For years before fiscal year 2008, TCS has data but it is less comprehensive.
Ending the Earmark ATM: Despite Reforms, Earmarks Continue to Thrive
TCS FY2010 Earmark Analysis: Apples-to-Apples Increase in Earmarks
Earmarks and Earmarking: Frequently Asked Questions.
Earmarks Terms Glossary
- information provided by TCS in whatever form is meant for research, educational, or journalistic purposes only;
- TCS Data shall not be used for commercial purposes, to solicit contributions, or sold to third-parties;
- and that appropriate credit will be given to TCS for all reports, articles, mashups, or other use of our data, including a link back to our website for all items published on the web.