Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday to permanently eliminate earmarks, a system of spending in Congress that allows funds for a specific purpose to be drawn into a larger federal spending bill.
"The swampiest of swamp creatures is what earmarks are," McCaskill said. She noted earmarks are not based on merit and there's no cost-benefit analysis.
"It's who you are, who you know and what lobbyist you hired," she said. "I see sprinkling fairy dust in a back room and overruling local and state planning."
The senators came together to make the point that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner without receiving incentives in the form of earmarks.
"It doesn't take 'pork' in the traditional sense, in the congressional sense, to sit us down at a lunch," Flake said.
President Donald Trump surprised lawmakers earlier this month when he praised the system of congressional directives often referred to as pork-barrel spending. The Republican-controlled Congress banned earmarks in 2011 at the charge of then-Speaker of the House John Boehner. The call for more permanent earmark legislation comes after the House Rules Committee announced plans last week to revisit talks and bring back a reformed version of the spending allocation system.
The event, which played heavily on the "pork" theme, left room for plenty of jibes and hog-flavored witticisms. The senators held up bibs that read, "Stick a fork in Congressional Pork," sitting before plates of ribs and coleslaw at a picnic-cloth covered table, complete with a paper pig centerpiece and Missouri's Arthur Bryant's Barbeque Sauce -- McCaskill's "fave," she pointed out.
Advocates for earmarks argue that they create opportunities to fund neglected services or projects outside Washington. McCaskill disputed the claim that earmarks are part of Congress' power of purse, saying as she pointed to her plate of barbecue ribs that it is "such, pardon the expression, hogwash."
Flake cited several examples of what he called egregious earmarking, including funds allocated for a Buffalo Theater ("I didn't know buffaloes could act!" he joked) and the more well-known "Bridge to Nowhere," a bridge constructed in Alaska to a tiny island that had a population of 50 at the time. Flake said earmarks are not only wasteful but also corrupt and that he hopes to end the system with the introduction of this bipartisan Earmark Elimination Act.
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