The simple fact of the matter is this: The easiest vote to cast in Congress is “no.” If members of Congress can vote “no” repeatedly and without consequence, it is no surprise that Congress fails to act on many important issues. Boehner remarked to Texas Republican Ralph M. Hall on the difficulties of leading the House in the absence of earmarks: “It’s not like the old days, Ralph. ... Without earmarks to offer, it’s hard to herd the cats.”
Eliminating earmarks made it more difficult to manage Congress, and it has not improved the public image of Congress one bit. According to a recent poll, Congress is less popular than cockroaches. The only beneficiary of the earmark moratorium is the executive branch. In policy areas where Congress fails to act, President Barack Obama has executive powers to shape the federal response to everything from immigration to gun control.
Congressional dysfunction goes beyond the earmark moratorium, but absent the lubrication of earmarks, there is nothing to lessen institutional friction. To free Congress to do the people’s work and restore the balance of power between Congress and the executive, it is time to bring earmarks back.
Scott A. Frisch and Sean Q Kelly are professors of political science at California State University-Channel Islands. They are co-authors of “Committee Assignments in the U.S. House of Representatives” and “Cheese Factories on the Moon: Why Earmarks Are Good for American Democracy.“