Transparency and the Earmark Moratorium


Presumptive Speaker Boehner has now come out in favor of a full earmark moratorium in the House.

There will be an earmark moratorium, that’s clear…

We don’t know yet what such a moratorium would look like when it’s imposed by the Speaker of the House. Here are some of the questions this raises for me. Would such a ban be a House Rule, a Republican Conference rule, or an informal policy set by the Speaker? Will it apply to House Democrats, and will the Senate be participating? If the Senate passes bills with earmarks, will the House (under Speaker Boehner) vote to approve those bills, approving Senate earmarks? Will House Members request earmarks of Senators, and will those who receive perennial earmarks just look to the Senate?

In every one of the above scenarios, transparency around earmark requests becomes more important. The success or failure of an earmark moratorium will come from just how it affects how earmarks are requested and rewarded. Since we don’t have a clear picture of earmark requests, it will be difficult to tell just how such a moratorium is working.

Earmark transparency has grown in fits and starts over the last few years, and each development has its own loopholes and complications. Here is a brief timeline of earmark reforms, along with broader context and analysis.

If House Republicans choose to continue a moratorium on earmarks, everyone should agree that increased transparency for earmarks should come as part of the package. The Earmark Transparency Act, a bill introduced in the House (HR 5258)and passed out of Senate committee (S 3335), should serve as the framework with which to open earmarking to online transparency.

Earmark reform has developed through incremental commitments from political leadership separately in each chamber. If each of these steps has been difficult to evaluate, prone to loopholes, and often contentious, then it makes sense to adopt the one measure that makes earmarks easier to evaluate, will help identify loopholes, and has a broad consensus supporting it: the single searchable database of earmark information laid out in the Earmark Transparency Act.