Fact Sheets

Evolution of Earmarks

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November 07, 2012

Evolution of Earmarks and Earmark Disclosure in Recent Years

A number of the reforms Taxpayers for Common Sense advocated for years came to fruition in 2010 as continued public focus on earmarking led to many positive developments:

  • March 10, 2010: House Appropriations Chairman Obey (D-WI) announces the committee will no longer accept earmark requests for private entities. Banning earmarks to for-profit entities is a step TCS has long advocated. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Inouye (D-HI) declined to follow suit.
  • March 11, 2010: The House Republican Conference adopted a one-year moratorium on submitting earmark requests.
  • Four Republican House members subsequently submitted earmark requests in defiance of the GOP’s self-imposed moratorium.
  • July 28, 2010: A bipartisan bill to establish a publicly accessible Congressional earmark database received 27 co-sponsors in the Senate and was passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The bill was not taken up on the legislative calendar.
  • July 29, 2010: Chairman Oberstar (D- MN) and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a publicly accessible database of all earmarks in bills under its jurisdiction. This is the first ever earmark database released by a committee. Development of this database was especially notable because the House T&I Committee was the same committee that gave the American public the Bridge to Nowhere in 2005.
  • December 2010: Three months into the fiscal year, Congress failed to send a single spending bill to the President’s desk. Because there were no FY2011 spending bills, technically there were no earmarks. TCS databased earmarks that were a part of the Senate’s 2011 Omnibus spending bill, however, that failed during the lame duck session.
  • 112th Congress: The now-majority House Republicans extended their earmark moratorium to cover the 112th Congress by incorporating the moratorium as part of the House Rules for the 112th Congress. Senate Republicans announced they will abstain from requesting earmarks. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama vows to veto any bill that contains earmarks. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) announces the Committee will not accept earmark requests for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
  • Today: Some lawmakers try to hold on to the old system through writing executive branch officials to support projects (lettermarking) or cajoling them through phone calls (phonemarking)

Now it’s time for the President and Congress to design the transparent, merit-based, competitive, and formula systems to make responsible spending decisions. No more political muscle trumping project merit. This should usher in a new era for accountability and oversight on federal spending, not just in earmarked accounts, but budget-wide.

The era of earmarks is not over. But it can be.


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