“One way to modernize Congress is a throwback — more pay for staff, a return of earmarks”

With all the attention focused on the election, this story about an impressive bipartisan congressional report on how to fix Congress, with 97 recommendations, is not likely to get the attention it deserves. This line stood out to me: “That’s why their most important recommendation is for the return of earmarks.” I’ve endorsed that idea, as part of my critique of how a number of “good government” reforms of recent decades have actually contributed to making government more dysfunctional.

From the story:

Tom Graves entered Congress in the summer of 2010, one of the first Republicans elected under the anti-spending tea party banner, a hard-charging conservative pushing to abolish everything from Obamacare to earmarks….

For almost two years, Graves served as the vice-chair of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, alongside Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), the chairman, whom he now counts as a close friend. Their sleepy little temporary panel worked in the smartest fashion possible, forging early consensus on the relatively easy items and built toward tackling the politically challenging issues at the end.

The result is one of the most important proposals to reform Congress, with more weight than the countless wonky blue papers cranked out by think tanks that did nothing but gather dust. This new offering came from within the building, six Democrats and six Republicans, forging common ground despite serving during a brutally partisan time. . . .

Rank-and-file lawmakers like Kilmer and Graves basically waited to be told when to show up and vote yes. . .

Soon after Graves arrived in Congress, Republicans swept the 2010 midterms and claimed the House majority. Their new, anti-corruption-minded speaker, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), banished those narrow special interest spending items because they had been tied to many corruption investigations.

Like every new idea with such good intentions, it turned out disastrous….

“One of the biggest reasons, I think, Congress is held in low regard is because of the dysfunction that you’ve seen on budget and appropriations matters,” Kilmer said.

They believe that if members of Congress could be in charge of directing funding to their districts, they will be much more invested in the entire process.
Their proposal would limit earmarks to local entities like water authorities and police departments, not private companies, and that they would function like grant proposals. And if local officials abused the system, federal investigators would be empowered to claw back the funds.
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