December 11, 2020

Wall Street Journal: Earmarks Get Makeover Before Possible Return

A BIPARTISAN GROUP of lawmakers makes a push to bring back a form of earmarks—lawmakers’ ability to direct federal funding to specific projects —but with more transparency and accountability. The 12 members of the bipartisan House Select Committee on Modernization, a group responsible for updating how Congress operates, are pushing to start a program of “community-focused grants,” which they hope would help restore Congress’s role in making specific decisions about spending taxpayer money.

“We laid out a framework that we thought could avoid some of the abuse of the past,” the group’s chairman, Washington Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer told The Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson. Under the proposal, local communities would work with their members of Congress to apply for a grant through a public database. If approved through the appropriations process, the funds would be subject to congressional oversight and could even be clawed back if lawmakers deemed they were being abused.

“It has to be uniquely derived from a local community,” said committee vice chairman Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.). For-profit entities wouldn’t be eligible to apply. “The member now becomes more of an advocate for or a shepherd for something that’s important to a local community.” The House banned earmarks in 2011, after the GOP won the majority in Nov. 2010.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) has spoken in favor of restoring some form of earmarks, but it’s not clear how receptive GOP leaders would be in the House or Senate. “Earmarks cause members to vote for excessively expensive spending bills that cost tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in exchange for a few earmarks worth a few million or sometimes just thousands of dollars,” says the Citizens Against Government Waste, an influential conservative group.

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MAKE FOUNDATIONS SPEND? A coalition of progressive multimillionaires, foundation heads, think tanks, and donor-advised fund managers is calling on Congress and the incoming Biden administration to make a temporary change to tax law to make private foundations give away more of their money if they want to qualify for tax deductions. They urge the Biden administration and Congress to double the minimum required disbursement by private foundations, set by the Internal Revenue Service. Foundations are now required to pay out 5% of their endowment each year; the letter calls for raising it to 10% for the next three years to raise around $200 billion for struggling charities, without the use of taxpayer funds.

The letter is signed by Scott Wallace, the co-chairman of the Wallace Global Fund and grandson of former Vice President Henry Wallace and members of the Patriotic Millionaires, a group that calls for more progressive taxation, among others. The Biden transition team didn’t respond to requests for comment. Tax changes that require legislative action will be a delicate dance for the Biden administration, and their prospects could hinge on the outcome of the Jan. 5 Georgia senate runoff elections.

WHOLE FOODS-CRACKER BARREL GAP reached its highest level in the 2020 election. Biden won 85% of counties that have a Whole Foods Market and just 32% of counties with a Cracker Barrel, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. Whole Foods counties tend to be higher income and located in metropolitan areas, while Cracker Barrels tend to be in more rural areas. The smallest gap since Whole Foods emerged as a national chain was in 1992, when Bill Clinton won 60% of Whole Foods counties and 40% of Cracker Barrel counties. Counties that have both stores are included in both categories. Biden won 95% of counties with Whole Foods but no Cracker Barrel, and just 18% of counties with a Cracker Barrel but no Whole Foods.

HYDROGEN FUEL gets a bipartisan bump from a Democratic climate hawk and the outgoing head of the Republican senate campaign arm. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) and Todd Young (R., Ind.) introduced legislation to make hydrogen-produced electricity eligible for renewable energy tax credits. Progressives like hydrogen because it can be a carbon-emission-free source of energy, while Young and some fellow Republicans have touted it as yet another resource that would boost American energy independence and export capabilities. Oil giants are among the companies that have made major investments in hydrogen fuel in recent years as they try to diversify their portfolios amid a global energy transition.


Source: By: Gabriel T. Rubin