Days after Republicans kept their House majority in the 2012 election, Speaker John Boehner doubled down on a ban on earmarks -- those legislative nuggets that get embedded into bigger bills directing funds to specific pet projects.
These legislative provisions were generally the grease that made Congress go -- leadership in the House and Senate would add earmarks to bills as a way to win votes on a larger controversial proposal.
The "earmark ban shows the American people we are listening," Boehner said in 2012. "We are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington."
But with that announcement, Boehner was tying one hand -- a hand that many of his predecessors had used before -- behind his back. He would have to pass legislation without the ability to woo members with money for their districts. GOP lawmaker: The fight was worth it 'I would rather keep this going'
"Trying to be a leader where you have no sticks and very few carrots is dang near impossible," Trent Lott, former Republican Senate Majority leader and House Minority Whip told CNN. "Members don't get anything from you and leaders don't give anything. They don't feel like you can reward them or punish them."
Lott, who is now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Boehner's job during this recent shutdown and debt ceiling crisis would "absolutely" have been easier had he been able to use earmarks.
Boehner may live to fight another day
"When I was the whip in the House in the 80s, I had a shop window hours when members could come in and say they had a problem and ask for help," Lott said. "Then when I came to do my whip job, the members" were more receptive to support him.
Lott, however, operated in a different Republican Party.
"Bringing home the bacon" back then was seen as a good thing, where today, many tea party and conservative Republicans campaigned on the idea that earmarks represented the seedy, pay-to-play deals of Lott's Congress.
Even in Wednesday's Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling there was a little pork.
There's a little pork in that bill: The 5 most surprising provisions in the debt deal Tea party leaders evaluate deal Rangel: Tea party acts like Confederates
The spending bill added more than $2 billion for a system of locks under construction at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and between Kentucky and Illinois.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has received some blow back for the money, but Democratic and Republican leaders say McConnell did not ask for it.
McConnell pushes back on 'Kentucky kickback'
"I find it funny that people keep coming back to this," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that has been vocally supportive of the earmarks ban. "I don't think earmarks are this sort of panacea that would make the trains all run on time."
The group has put out different research on earmarks, backing up Boehner's ban and pointing out some of the more earmark-laden bills of the past 20 years.
Ellis says it is "preposterous" to assume that conservative members of Congress who ran against Washington spending could be "bought off" with earmarks.
"If you are willing to shutdown the government over the issue of Obamacare," why would a road project in your district change your mind, he said.
What did GOP win on Obamacare? Not much Government shutdown Government shutdown
Earmarks, while something long used in congressional spending bills, grew significantly between the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
In 1996, the defense appropriation bill included 270 earmarks. In 2005, there were 2,506 earmarks in the defense spending bill, costing taxpayers over $9 billion. For other bills, like the energy…