Rep. Young wants earmarks back, and he’s not alone

Alaska Rep. Don Young. Photo: Liz Ruskin.

The U.S. House is pondering whether to reinstate the use of earmarks, allowing lawmakers to again direct federal money to specific projects, usually in their home districts. One of the biggest proponents at a House Rules Committee hearing Wednesday was Alaska Congressman Don Young.

Listen now

“This to me is one of the crucial issues to this Congress, the next Congress and this House,” said Young.

He and other earmark proponents say Congress functioned better with earmarks to foster compromise. They say when members get their projects in a spending bill, they have a stake in seeing that bill pass. Earmarks, they say, help prevent gridlock.

Young says earmarks aren’t for the lawmaker; they’re projects requested by their constituents. (Usually, but not always.)

“What are we here for if we can’t represent the people who are going to vote for us?” he asked.

But to some, the carve-outs reek of pork-barrel spending. The poster child in 2005 was one of Young’s favorites, a $223 million earmark for the Gravina Island bridge, the so-called “bridge to nowhere.” After that became a national laughingstock, Republicans in Congress banned earmarks. (Young said Wednesday the bridge should’ve been built. “There’s never been a bridge anywhere that had anything on the other side until it’s built,” he said.)

Young has complained for years that without the ability to make earmarks, Congress is ceding power and money to the administration and letting bureaucrats decide where it goes.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland is with Young on this issue. But some of Young’s fellow Republicans are skeptical, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairs a conservative faction in the House. He said bringing back earmarks would indicate to voters that they’d lost their way.

“Effective conservatism requires the right policy, the right message and the right voice,” Walker said. It’s one of his catchphrases. 

Some lawmakers suggest allowing the practice again, but delaying the effective date until next year, so it doesn’t look like incumbents are trying to give themselves an election-year trophies.

“I believe the sooner the better,” Young said. “I have always fought for this.”


Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

Previous articleTraveling Music 1-21-18
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018