Earmarking and Greene, Claire-ified

Claire Conner, Assistant Opinion Editor

President Joe Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill March 15, enacting legislation that is historic on multiple fronts: It provides the largest increase in funding for high-poverty schools in a decade, renews the Violence Against Women Act and sends a hefty $13.6 billion aid package to Ukraine. But nestled between the provisions of this massive 2,741-page bill lies an equally crucial change. The bill officially brings back congressionally directed spending, commonly known as earmarks, and consequently reinstitutes a practice that is instrumental in facilitating cooperation and combatting right-wing extremism.

Earmarks add federal spending in a certain state or district to legislation as a consolation prize for lawmakers who might not otherwise vote for important bills. Even if they were on the losing side of an ideological debate, legislators could deliver key funding to their constituents for a new highway or hospital.

Congressionally directed spending alleviates the impacts of partisan divides on major policies like appropriations, and it is a useful tool for party leaders to rein in outliers when they need solid numbers. When Congress banned earmarks in 2010, it threw this tool out the window. Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin lost any incentive they once had to stick with the party on issues like healthcare, and the rapid rise of political loudmouths like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Madison Cawthorn kicked off.

Greene’s workdays at Capitol Hill are simple: She arrives, she tweets, she heckles, she propagates Neo-Nazi and Kremlin disinformation and then, she leaves, ready to tweet some more and rest up for the next day of yelling and baseless dissent ahead.

The core function of Congress is to manage and spend taxpayer dollars. Elected officials are supposed to work on substantive legislation that improves citizens’ lives and contributes to national success and security. But when the losing party has nothing to take home and the winning party falls short of its goals because it lacks numbers and cohesion, the only way for politicians to consistently maintain support from constituents is to prove their ideological purity.

When earmarking was banned and removed from the national budget, Greene and other lawmakers on the edges of the political spectrum could foment discord and make our nation’s most powerful legislative body the laughing stock of the world. Now that funds in the new appropriations bill have been allocated for congressionally directed spending, lawmakers can only do this at the cost of forfeiting rewards for their work and congressional cooperation. If they refuse to contribute to significant policies and spend their time complaining about “Jewish space lasers” and “Nancy Pelosi’s gazpacho police,” they will miss out on legislative perks for their districts, and their more sensible opponents will get a major leg-up on the campaign trail.

It is true that earmarking reallocates hundreds of millions of dollars to local spending that appears less important than federal issues. However, this is a microscopic price to pay for a massive reward. Avoiding political gridlock and diminishing the capabilities of chauvinist lawmakers will reinvigorate a government that is rapidly losing trust from citizens and foreign allies. Crises and unrest will likely make the next several years in Washington quite difficult, but with the golden lasso of earmarking returned to our hands, there is only one thing to say: Welcome back.