Ideas. Action. Results.

Jason Grumet: Bring back earmarks

The Washington Post

Thursday, November 3, 2016

This campaign has laid bare discord that defines our current politics, but a divided country is not an excuse for government dysfunction. The story of our nation is not 240 years of placid cohesion. Rather than pining for gentler times, we must work to strengthen the structures that have long enabled Congress to be both partisan and productive.

It was not long ago that Congress had the capacity to metabolize political conflict. Within weeks of being impeached in 1998, President Bill Clinton was signing legislation that had been developed and considered alongside his trial. Why was that possible then, but so unlikely today? Because in the past, members of Congress knew one another and Congress had more tools to build consensus on hard issues.

A series of reforms designed to make government work better have had the opposite effect. C-SPAN and newer digital technologies have revealed much about our policymaking process while reducing the space for honest interaction and negotiation. And the elimination of earmarks has sanitized the legislative process to a virtual standstill.

We sometimes forget that resolving policy conflicts is not that different from challenges we all face when trying to come to agreement. Imagine discussing with your spouse whose in-laws to visit over the holidays. Now imagine that same discussion with your in-laws watching you on a live broadcast. There are moments in life and legislating where the imperative for deliberation trumps the imperative for transparency, and Congress should occasionally turn the cameras off. The incentive to perform for the TV audience is most unfortunate in congressional committees where canned questions and grandstanding have replaced learning and discussion.