Earmark restrictions

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Earmark restrictions set limitations on legislation which allocates funds for special projects. Earmarks are defined by the Office of Management and Budgeting as "Provisions associated with legislation (appropriations or general legislation) that specify certain congressional spending priorities or in revenue bills that apply to a very limited number of individuals or entities. Earmarks may appear in either the legislative text or report language (committee reports accompanying reported bills and joint explanatory statement accompanying a conference report)." These provisions are typically associated with special projects to benefit a legislator's state or municipality. Often confused with "pork barrel" spending, earmarks may be opposed and seen as unnecessary, excessive spending that is politically motivated by a legislator's desire to create legislation that benefits their constiutents specifically. Restrictions may include limits on what can be earmarked and for what purpose or can be a moratorium entirely.




Representative Smith was elected partially on a platform of creating new jobs and combatting unemployment in State A. She wants to earmark funds for a plant to be built in State A which will build military aircraft and aircraft parts as part of an upcoming bill about national security. Other members of her party see this as "pork barrel" spending and argue that the United States Army already has many types of planes that are in excellent condition and are currently being unused. Still others argue that this is a blatant violation of the earmark moratorium implemented in 2011. Rep. Smith argues that this does not constitute earmarking or unnecessary spending because of its broader implications for national security.



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. These restrictions may reduce politically motivated and unnecessary spending
  2. Budget deficits may be reduced as funds for these projects are raised through other sources
  3. Without a clear definition of acceptable earmarks, important improvements may be flagged as "pork barrel" and postponed
  4. States and municipalities in need of infrastructure improvement may lose voice in Congress
  5. Limitation on earmarked legislative spending may move funds to the same private sector contracts through other channels
Compatibility Assessment

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If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Does this branch of government struggle with unchecked "pork barrel" spending?
  2. Can infrastructure needs and other state or local projects be funded more appropriately through other sources?
  3. Will the legislation being restricted contribute to an unnecessary or unnecessarily large deficit?
  4. Is this restriction detrimental to public safety or other key values?
  5. Is this legislation politically motivated or important despite the cost?


The following questions should be considered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. What constitutes an earmark that will be flagged and restricted?
  2. Are all earmarks banned or what is the criteria for limiting earmarks?
  3. When will this restriction be revisited and removed if necessary?
  4. What other channels for funding necessary special projects (including state and local) exist?
  5. How will spending be monitored to ensure that earmarks are not funded through loopholes?



  • Has adoption of: Common. An earmark moratorium was instituted in 2010 and various limitations have existed many times through history. [1]
  • For governance level(s): National, State or Provincial, Local. Earmarks exist in many levels of legislation and can be used for projects ranging from local to state, with nationally elected representative creating the legislation.
  • For area type(s): Urban, Suburban, Rural. Projects that require earmarked funding can be found at all levels and are often related to transportation, which leads them to span varying areas.
  • For issue type(s): Efficiency, Integrity, Finance, Infrastructure, Transparency. While the issues of integrity and transparency are tied to concerns about pork barrel spending, earmark restrictions can impact infrastructure projects and help or hinder government efficiency.











  1. http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/12/opinion/zelizer-the-case-for-earmarks/
  2. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/house-republicans-adopt-earmarks-ban-in-new-congress/
  3. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/earmark-moratorium-republicans-poised-ban-pork-barrel-spending/story?id=12155964
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