Three weeks ago, when the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate voted to ban the use of earmarks, the dissenters among them spoke of the vital role that earmarks play in securing federal assistance for important projects in their states. “I’m going to find the best path forward to make sure my state’s interests are represented," said Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. "I do not believe that an earmark moratoria does anything more than send a message." “I'm going to look out for my state of Oklahoma,” insisted Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe, who loves earmarks as much as he hates inclusive holiday parades. “Obviously, that's what the Constitution says I’m going to do, and I'm going to do it."
Now, it seems the realization is setting in among the rest of the Republicans that, wait, earmarks can be pretty useful sometimes, when they're not funding monkeys' cocaine habits. According to Politico, "Many Republicans are now worried that the bridges in their districts won’t be fixed, the tariff relief to the local chemical company isn’t coming and the water systems might not be built without a little direction from Congress." Good point! We guess it's too bad they already voted to ban earmarks, though. Or does that all depend on your definitions of "ban" and "earmarks"?
So some Republicans are discussing exemptions to the earmark ban, allowing transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water projects. While transportation earmarks are probably the most notorious — think “Bridge to Nowhere” — there is talk about tweaking the very definition of “earmark.”
“It’s like what beauty is,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “Everyone knows what a bridge to nowhere is, or an airport that lands no airplanes, or a statue to you — everyone knows that’s bad. It’s easy to say what an earmark isn’t, rather than what an earmark is.”
Actually, it's not that hard. The Republican Conference rules define an earmark as a request “authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority or any other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific state, locality or congressional district other than through a statutory or administrative-formula-driven or competitive award process.”
What Congressman Roe really means is that it's hard to tell which earmarks are wastes of money and which are useful. Which is why enacting a blanket earmark prohibition was probably a little overzealous.
GOP gets queasy over earmark ban [Politico]