Senate Makes Earmark Ban Permanent

Sen. Ben Sasse
Sen. Ben Sasse / Getty Images
May 24, 2019

A Republican initiative in the Senate, led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), passed an amendment on Thursday renewing and codifying a Congressional ban on earmarking bills.

"The last thing taxpayers need is for the same politicians who racked up a $22 trillion national debt to go on an earmark binge," Sasse said in a statement. "It's pretty simple: Earmarks are a crummy way to govern and they have no business in Congress. Backroom deals, kickbacks, and earmarks feed a culture of constant incumbency and that's poisonous to healthy self-government. This is an important fight and I'm glad that my Republican colleagues agreed with my rules change to make the earmark ban permanent."

The Senate placed a temporary ban on earmarking bills in 2011, following a push from Senate Republicans and a promise from former President Barack Obama that he would veto any incoming bill that was filled with unrelated pet projects. At the time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nevada) had fought Obama on the ban, telling the president to "back off," according to Politico. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) had already placed a ban on earmarks in House bills earlier in the year.

The Senate voted in 2017 to keep the ban in place, with a push led by former Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.). Flake launched an investigation in 2015 which found that, despite the 2011 ban, many earmarks had slipped through, with hundreds of millions spent on side projects, such as grape research and subsidies for a ballet theater in the wealthiest congressional district in America.

Similarly, a Citizens Against Government Waste report found that Congress had approved $5.1 billion in earmarks in 2016. In 2016, House Republicans attempted to undo earmark bans, but the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) rebuffed the effort, saying that it would inappropriate right after a "drain the swamp" election.