Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) announced Monday that earmarks, the much-maligned pet projects that members of Congress slip into broader spending bills, will again be welcome in Washington, D.C., after a decade-long absence.
The powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee announced his committee would be accepting limited requests for such “congressionally-directed spending items” for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning in October.
“The Constitution vests the power of the purse in Congress,” Leahy said in a statement. “In recent years, Congress has ceded too much of its Constitutional authority over spending to the Executive Branch to make decisions about how and where to invest Federal taxpayer dollars. A rebalanced process will allow Members to better utilize their knowledge and experience to thoughtfully direct federal funds, and do so with transparency and accountability.”
Republicans did away with earmarks in 2011 following a wave of scandals that included lobbyist Jack Abramoff bribing members of Congress to insert earmarks favorable to his clients.
Their return has been hinted at for months as a way to help generate bipartisan support for important bills and help voters connect federal spending to local projects.
Leahy noted earmarks date back to 1790 and argued that lawmakers know the needs of their communities better than federal bureaucrats.
"To unelected agency officials, a new community center or a critical flood protection project is nothing more than a line item on a spreadsheet,” Leahy said.
Such “community project requests” would be subject to new rules meant to improve transparency and accountability.
These include capping earmarks at 1 percent of discretionary spending and banning earmarks for for-profit entities.
Members of Congress would also have to post such requests publicly, as well as financial disclosure forms attesting they have no financial interest in the projects for which funding is being requested.