Policy Documents

Will Earmark Reform Stop Earmarks?

Amy K. Frantz –
March 1, 2007

During his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush called for earmark reform, and at least a portion of the Congressional audience cheered and clapped. The House of Representatives and Senate have taken action on earmark reform, but will it truly reform the system?

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the Senate’s leading opponents of earmarks, defines earmarks as “short provisions that direct funds to a specific project in a specific location.” More than ninety percent of earmarks are placed in “reports” that accompany the appropriations bills adopted by Congress to fund federal agencies and programs. These reports are drafted by the authors of the appropriations bills to provide additional explanation to federal agencies as to how funding should be distributed. The report language is generally followed by those agencies because their funding is also provided by the same Appropriations Committee members that drafted the report. As Senator Coburn states, the problem with earmarks is that “the provisions get slipped into reports by the bill authors late at night behind closed doors, meaning no one gets a chance to vote on them individually. To make matters worse, these spending bills are often rammed through Congress before anybody has time to actually read them.”