Federal earmarks may return. What it means for higher education

Federal earmarks may be returning. According to reporting in Axios and other sources over the weekend, the House Appropriations Committee is planning to restore a new version of congressional earmarks, which would give lawmakers the power to designate and direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects as part of approved appropriations bills.

A series of embarrassing scandals led to federal earmarks being banned back in 2011. Led by the Tea Party, but with some bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, the earmark ban has stood for a decade, despite occasional talk of reviving it. Advocates of the moratorium like to claim it has brought government spending under better control, when it fact it only ever accounted for a tiny fraction of the federal budget. (In 2011, 130 billion dollars were earmarked out of a 2.6 trillion dollar budget.)

Now with Democrats in control of the House and ever so narrowly in the Senate, earmarks may be poised for a comeback, albeit in revised form, as part of a strategy to cut more deals and get big legislation passed. And if earmarks do officially return, it could mean billions in funding for universities and colleges for a host of programs and projects near and dear to individual institutions’ hearts.

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