The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 24, 2013

Earmarks can help Congress get groove back

Americans have little faith left in Congress. There is mounting evidence that members of Congress have developed a similarly low opinion of themselves (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas emphatically excepted). What everyone needs now is a confidence booster.

To break the cycle of failure, partisan recrimination and stalemate on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans need something that looks, smells and feels like bipartisan success. Congress could make a structural change that would both please members and grease the wheels for future cooperation: Bring back earmarks.

With no earmarks to dole out, leaders have a harder time maintaining order in the ranks, and legislators have an incentive to pressure executive branch agencies behind closed doors to fund pet projects.

So one good way to jump-start a stalled Congress would be to resurrect earmarks — complete with the 2007 reforms and an extra bipartisan twist. Any legislator who proposes an earmark should be required to enlist a sponsor from the other party. The earmark would have to have sufficient merit that a partisan opponent would be willingly associated with it. At the very least, this would spur bipartisan horse trading, building valuable working relationships — and, who knows, maybe even a little trust — across the partisan divide.

Bloomberg Views

Dems too dumb to exploit tea party's insanityEven many Republicans agree that they lost the battle over the shutdown and the debt ceiling. The tea party walked the country to the edge of economic ruin and their party to the edge of political catastrophe until Republican leaders in Congress flinched.

Democrats, though, have little to celebrate — and I'm not talking about the shambolic rollout of the health-insurance exchanges. Republicans saw their approval numbers sink with the debt-ceiling standoff, but not nearly as badly as you might have guessed. This should be making Democrats think.

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