With the election of President Joe Biden, the marks were on the horizon again. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has long been a supporter, arguing that members of the House of Representatives in particular are the most knowledgeable federal officials about what is needed in their home districts. Done correctly, they need not be the "bridge to nowhere" debacle of past congresses. This is the infamous Alaksa project, valued at $ 223 million in 2005, which proposes a bridge between Gravina Island and its population of less than 50 people with Ketchikan over a bridge the size of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Replaced the ferry running between them. It wasn't just the bridge, however. Republican MP Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned after pleading guilty to accepting millions of bribes in exchange for ear tags.
Hoyer previewed the plan to revive the practice shortly after last year's elections and revealed transparency measures. "Of course the committee has to figure out how to do that, and I think that will largely be left to the new budget committee chair and sub-committee chair and quite openly to members of Congress," Hoyer said in November. "There could be a situation where the committee might decide they don't want that."
Senate Republicans temporarily passed a purpose-built ban in 2010, and in 2019 Republicans conference voted in favor of a permanent ban. That wasn't a binding vote on the Senate, so nothing needs to be overturned there for Leahy to allow it. "Chairman Leahy was keen to restore Congressional spending in a transparent and accountable manner as part of Congressional constitutional power," said Jay Tilton, Senate Fund Press Secretary.
Ear tags have a real political advantage in doing things in Congress in a non-partisan way. Trading back and forth in valuable projects in home states means doing business and passing laws. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, recalled how it worked in the past at a bipartisan selection committee hearing last year to modernize Congress. "This used to be a time when everyone was 'alleluia'. I mean Republicans, Democrats, dancing, kissing. This is the time to be saved." This ad hoc committee recommended reviving ear tags in its final report published in October, although the committee officially refers to them as "Community-Focused Grant Programs".
At the hearings, Brookings Institution's John Hudak told the committee that the total ban on ear tags was an overreaction to some essentially bad apples. "Ear tags were drawn as a circle for corruption, a practice reserved for funding unnecessary projects for the benefit of Congress members' friends, supporters and donors. Much of this was an exaggeration as earmarking has only been misused by a handful of members in the EU Past." He was one of those who pleaded for her return.
How the Republicans deal with when the ear tags are back is the big question. Back in December, Leahy said, "The Republicans are very quiet in their support. There will be some opponents, but they don't have to have ear tags if they don't like them." Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a leading Republican appropriator, was prudent, saying, "I don't think Senators think that much until it's clear what the House is really up to." This is blunt that definitely doesn't rule out the process. It is not yet clear what minority leader Kevin McCarthy is up to in the house and whether he will try to ban his members who request them.