Red-State Democrat Points to Earmarks as Path to Bipartisanship

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones backed a return to earmarks -- spending that lawmakers personally direct toward home-state projects -- as a way to return some bipartisanship and civility to Congress.

"Everybody up there I think would love to get back to where we have something that we used to call earmarks, but they don’t want to call them that now," Jones said during a Bloomberg Government policy breakfast Thursday.

Republicans banned earmarks after they won control of the House in 2010. At the time, then-House Speaker John Boehner said it showed the GOP was serious about ending "business as usual" in Washington. Earlier this year some House Republicans brought up the idea of bringing back the policy of setting aside funds for lawmakers’ pet projects.

"If we could do something like that, most people I’ve talked to said that that really created a really interesting dynamic between House members and Senate colleagues to talk to each other," Jones said. "There’ll probably be more talk about that this year and next year."

Jones, who won an upset victory in an Alabama special election in December, ran with a promise to reach out to Republicans to find areas of agreement. During his first major floor speech on the Senate floor earlier this year, he discussed gun violence and the need for both sides to "change the narrative" and focus on what they agree on.

"There is some common ground if we can not retreat to our corners as soon as there’s a Parkland," Jones said Thursday, referring to the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida school that killed 17.

While he said he doubted Congress would make progress on controversial issues like guns during the "silly season" before of the 2018 midterm elections, Jones said he thought legislation on controlling opioids and efforts to improve rural broadband have bipartisan support.

Looking ahead to the November election, when Senate Democrats will be defending more than two dozen seats, Jones said he doesn’t anticipate campaigning against any of his Senate colleagues. "I’ll probably do something in those open seats," he said.

He credited his own win in Republican-dominated Alabama to his focus on "kitchen table" issues like health care and the economy, and encouraged other Democrats to ignore side issues such as President Donald Trump’s alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels.

"That’s gonna be in the news, you don’t have to talk about that," he said.

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