Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Earmarks & Tin Ears

Congressional earmarks are perhaps the most emblamatic symbol of corruption and out of control spending by our government. Republican Presidential nominee John McCain has taken a clear and fiscally conservative stand against earmarks, promising not to sign a single bill with earmarks. Republicans lost the 2006 election in large measure because of their profligate spending and embrace of earmarks. So how idiotic is it that our Republican caucus is now going to break with McCain on his call for ending earmarks?


Some things make you step back and wonder just how out of touch our leadership is in Washington. In both the House and the Senate, the Republican leadership talks about fiscal responsibility, but their actions tell another story entirely - one that suggests that they are fitting comfortably into their role as a minority party. This a few weeks ago from Instapundit on the problems in the House:

House Minority Leader John Boehner and his colleagues among the GOP leadership shanked one this week on the earmarks issue. A GOP slot opened up on the House Appropriations Committee, which signs off on the pet projects of lawmakers. If Boehner and company were serious about ending the earmark culture, which has badly undermined the credibility of Congress, they had a perfect man to fill the vacancy: Jeff Flake of Arizona. He has introduced more amendments to strike earmarks than any other member of the House, and putting him on the appropriations panel would have shown that the GOP was no longer just talking about earmark reform. Instead, Boehner and company settled on Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama.

Read the post here. Rep. Bonner is highly porcine. And in the Republican Senate, things are worse. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - himself a heavy feeder at the earmark trough - is providing something far less than stellar leadership on this issue. This from the Hill explains the situation:

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) may return to Capitol Hill this month to support an amendment imposing a one-year ban on earmarks, a move that could set up a divisive clash within the GOP caucus.

McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has long broken with most of Congress, including the Senate Republican leadership, in seeking an end to the practice of inserting line items in spending bills for parochial projects. . . .

“I absolutely would support such an amendment – and abolish [earmarks] altogether,” McCain said, according to the Red State blog. “As I’ve said, I will veto any earmark project that comes across my desk.”

McCain is highlighting his opposition to earmarks as a way to appease conservatives skeptical of his candidacy because of other issues, such as his support for a legalization program for illegal immigrants and campaign finance restrictions and his initial opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts. On the stump, he has criticized his Democratic opponents, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), for individually securing almost $4 million and $100 million, respectively, for pet projects in the fiscal 2008 spending legislation enacted in December.

McCain, who secured no pet projects in the recent spending law, calls them a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“I really can’t tell you, traveling and campaigning now for many months, how dispirited the Bridge to Nowhere or earmark and pork-barrel spending was to our Republican base,” he said on this week's conference call. “We lost in 2006 not because of Iraq but because spending got out of control.”

. . . A McConnell aide said the Republican leader probably wouldn’t take a position on the DeMint measure until after the GOP task force issues its recommendations. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, McConnell secured $126 million in individual earmarks in the recently enacted spending law; his deputy and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl earmarked $2 million; the third-ranking Senate Republican leader, Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), inserted $6 million individually; GOP Policy Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) racked up almost $42 million in projects; and Conference Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) got $14 million.

If McCain returns and lobbies his members to support an amendment that the leadership opposes, it could test rank-and-file members to support either their nominee or their Senate leaders.

“McCain is a Senate reformer who’s locked horns with our leadership for years,” a GOP aide said. “But now he’s our nominee and the old bulls will have to decide if their pork is more important than our party’s future.”

Read the article here. As Bluegrass Roots puts it:

So Mitch McConnell has a choice: (1) continue his campaign strategy of bragging about how how pork and government waste he can bring to KY in order to secure support for himself, or (2) go with "conservative" principles and end earmarks for the sake of John McCain and the Republican Party.

But when it comes to Mitch McConnell, one thing should be certain: the only thing he cares about is himself and his own power. McConnell does not have any principle and will do whatever is necessary for himself. So, as the GOP aide said in the story, Mitch indeed will have to "decide if (his) pork is more important than (his) party’s future."

Don't hold your breath folks, I can tell you how this story ends.

Read the post here. If Republicans succeed in recapturing either the Senate, the House, or the Presidency, it will be on the strength of John McCain's national security credentials and his very principled position to reform our government. It will be over the kicking and screaming of our current tin-eared Congressional Republican leadership. This really will be a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican party. As Ed Morrisey states:

A vote for fiscal responsibility will put McCain in conflict with the GOP? The party won’t back McCain on earmarks, even though his improbable come-from-behind victory for the party’s nomination shows exactly how seriously the Republican voters take fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability?

This shows the deafness that comes from living within the Beltway for too long. If the Republicans didn’t lose in 2006 because of Iraq, nor because of profligate spending, nor because of corruption generated from the nexus of political contributions and earmarking, exactly why do these geniuses think they’re in the minority? Misaligned stars in the firmament? Not only did the voters send a message on corruption, they had it delivered by FedEx with two signatures and a return receipt. Yet the survivors of 2006 somehow think that fiscal responsibility doesn’t matter.

Read the post here. This tin ear among our Congressional Republican leadership is setting up a battle that they cannot possibly win in the long run and that can only do untold damage to the conservative cause.

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