Some GOP lawmakers preach fiscal responsibility yet refuse to kick earmark addiction, DeMint shines again
Today, the hotly-contested $410 billion omnibus spending bill was signed by President Barack Obama after passing in a disconcertingly easy fashion in both the House and Senate. For more than a week, we’ve heard endless discussion and debate regarding the bill, much of it focused on the 8,000-plus earmarks included within its pages.
Honestly, with regard to this particular bill, I’ve said what I needed to say about the Democrats’ spending practices and about the additional promises broken by President Obama, the most recent of which being promises for earmark reform made not only on the campaign trail but also at today’s signing. The stark contrast between those empty promises and his decision to sign this porcine monstrosity today only reaffirms the idea that, barely 50 days into this new administration, it shouldn’t take a genius to know exactly what to expect from the White House, and exactly what to expect from Harry Reid’s Senate and Nancy Pelosi’s House. For that reason, while the extent of the pork-barrel spending was certainly frustrating, while the overt nature in which past promises were broken and the brazen nature in which new empty promises were made was certainly maddening, it was by no means surprising.
Where I was more than a bit surprised, frustrated and dismayed, however, was seeing the number of Republicans who refused to walk the walk when it came to fiscal restraint and responsibility. In fact, six of the top ten earmarking senators were Republicans, with Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby in for the silver medal overall with $114 million in earmarks. Now, Shelby may be a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and surely at least a little of that money will be headed for my Alma Mater, Auburn University, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less irritated at the sheer hypocrisy from a Republican or frustrated at the ill effects of such practices on our nation’s economy.
This is a time when temptation and the trappings of power should take a back seat to an honest assessment of the economic troubles facing our nation and the emerging tendencies of a spendthrift Congress. The concept of fiscal responsibility, after all, should not be reserved for parroted talking points in the face of a pending vote on a bloated spending bill or federal budget, but rather practiced in everyday governance, as part of a principled approach to leadership. The current economic downturn requires fiscal restraint for two primary reasons — not only as the right thing to do for America, but as the right thing to do, politically, with regard to the future of the Republican Party and conservative movement in this country.
In terms of curbing earmarks for political reasons, it all boils down to saying one thing and doing another. Hypocrisy is the death knell of American politics, especially for Republicans and conservatives who, every day, face disproportionate scrutiny from the left-leaning mainstream press. Instead of pointing fingers at The New York Times or blaming MSNBC for overt liberal bias, however, Republicans and conservative leaders alike should work proactively to eliminate that which the media can latch upon — much in the same way a firearm destined for concealed carry is dehorned, the corners smoothed out so as not to catch on a shirt or jacket in an emergency.
As we prepare to battle President Obama and the Democrats over continued out-of-control spending, congressional Republicans will continue to be rightfully vulnerable to salient arguments from Democrats due to their own spendthrift tendencies over the past two-plus years. Politicans and pundits on the left scored valid points during the recent debate over the so-called “stimulus” bill by pointing out examples of reckless spending by GOP leaders during the latter half of the final term of the Bush administration — why give them the opportunity to do the same with regard to earmark reform and the next round of spending from Speaker Pelosi and her stable of flying monkeys?
According to the American Conservative Union, DeMint scored a perfect 100 in 2008 with regard to the group’s ratings based upon legislative conduct. DeMint’s attitude toward the earmark process is not only reflective of that conduct and his priorities, but should be the standard by which the GOP conducts itself in this period of economic duress and expanding federal government.
“Sen. DeMint, as he likes to say, is a ‘recovering earmarker’ who stopped earmarking after 2006 because it became apparent to him that there was no way to genuinely fight for true reform in the system while continuing to operate within the earmark favor factory,” a spokesman for the South Carolina senator told America’s Right this afternoon. “To truly reform the system, you have to go cold turkey, and for that reason he called for a moratorium on that practice so we could truly pass the reforms so desperately needed — and that’s hard to do while you’re still involved in it.”
Breaking the addiction to earmarks not for political reasons but because it’s the right thing to do for America is more difficult, especially when the GOP is hampered by outspoken fiscal conservatives like Texas Congressman Ron Paul rationalizing the practice. Paul had $14 million in solo earmarks and more than $73 million in joint earmarks in the bill signed today, and has in the past defended his practices by arguing that his constituents are paying taxes and should be given something in return.
Don’t get me wrong — I get that excuse. I understand it. I also understand the idea that one man’s earmark is another man’s vital national project, and that the pressure on congressmen and senators alike to “bring home the bacon”–in more ways than one–must at times be absolutely crushing.
DeMint’s spokesman was quick to mention, however, that the South Carolina senator has said on several occasions before that “the only oath of office taken by congressman and senators when they arrive here on Capitol Hill is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” They do not, he said, take an oath “to get as much as they can from the federal government for their own projects back home.” And he’s right. Sen. DeMint and those like him, congressmen and senators who both took no earmarks and voted against the bill riddled with them, are doing far more for their own constituents–and for all of us–by setting an example of fiscal responsibility than by bringing home taxpayer money for the local fish hatchery.
“State and local governments are the entities charged with taking care of state and local needs,” DeMint’s spokesman told America’s Right. “Federal representatives are there to look after national priorities and to protect and defend the Constitution. Sen. DeMint is of the opinion that, on the federal level, the people of South Carolina are better served by keeping more of their own tax dollars instead of sending them to Washington, D.C. to be spent on pork projects.”
“That being said, if there are projects around the country that people consider to be vital projects, then they should be debated on, and voted on, and go through a meritorious system that weeds out wasteful projects,” he said. “The current earmark system is not based on any merit, but instead on seniority on the appropriations committee and seniority in Congress. It is not based upon what project is in the best interests of the nation, it is based on who has the most power at the committee table when they’re writing these bills.”
Of course, research must be done, bridges must be built, and some projects must be funded. It’s understandable. What is not understandable, however, is how congressional Republicans in particular have no problem citing the need for fiscal restraint in showing solidarity against the White House’s rampant spending practices, yet relish in the opportunity to feed at the taxpayer trough when given the chance on a more personal level.
For the good of our nation, this system must be reformed. The earmark process as we know it now is fraught with recklessness, waste and corruption, with no story in recent memory epitomizing the latter better than that of ex-Senate aide Ann Copland who, just yesterday, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud after accepting $25,000 in bribes taken in exchange for earmarks. Copland will serve jail time, according to a Roll Call article, as she “admitted to exchanging official activities–including designating appropriations earmarks–for tickets to events including baseball and football games, ice skating competitions and concerts such as Green Day, ‘N Sync and Paul McCartney.”
Actual earmark reform, pardon the phrase, would be true, tangible change I could believe in. Between you and me, however, just like I laughed at the White House’s summit on fiscal responsibility held before the ink dried on the $787 billion spending bill, I don’t buy empty promises of earmark reform made by a president who, moments later, sat down and signed legislation filled with earmarks. Not to mention making such promises through use of a presidential signing statement, only two days after he publicly questioned his predecessor’s use of such declarations and insisted that he would refrain from doing so as often himself.
If conservatives want this change, we must create it. In order to do so, however, the hypocrisy on our side must stop. This is our opportunity, as conservative supporters of a small, limited government, to display for all to see the glaring differences between us and our big-government counterparts on the left.
Former President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership failed with regard to fiscal restraint and responsibility during the past four years and, as a result, have supplied those on the political left with ammunition and arguments to bring out during any discussion or debate about the American economy. This is our chance, this is our moment — let’s not provide our adversaries on Capitol Hill with further arguments.
Talk the talk, walk the walk, stick to conservative principles, and we will succeed. Falter, waver, or abandon principles in favor of political expediency, and the outcome will be far less certain.