Leaders trifle with us on earmarks

Posted on April 30, 2007 | Type: Op-Ed | Author: Thomas C. Patterson
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Taxpayers couldn't help but be impressed by Democratic criticism of the Republican fiscal foolishness during the last election campaign. The Democrats solemnly promised to restore budgetary discipline. But it looks like they were just kidding.

It seemed counterintuitive that Democrats would be the party to put the fiscal house in order. But there was one good reason to think that this time the leopard really might change his spots. It would have been so cool politically. The Republicans had alienated their base by their wild overspending, especially on earmarks. There were thousands of bridges to nowhere that were disgusting and embarrassing.

The Democrats could have executed a flanking maneuver by establishing themselves as the taxpayers protector. They could have captured much of the traditional Republican support and gone a long way towards consigning Republicans to another lengthy stint as the minority party.

They knew it, too. Democratic leaders campaigned not to raise taxes. They agreed to eliminate 10,000 earmarks proposed by the previous Congress in the 2007 budget and institute an earmarks moratorium. Pay-as-you-go budget rules were established. Although some worried that this was really tax-as-you-go, the Democrats seemed sincere about following up on their campaign promises.

The wheels fell off with the passage of the defense supplemental appropriation. This kind of bill tests the willpower of pork-craving politicos. It is a must pass bill that normally wont be vetoed. It is also an emergency measure, so any spending in the bill doesn't count against the budgetary caps on discretionary spending. That inside-the-Beltway stuff doesn't matter to us but it does to them.

So how did the Democratic leadership do on this first real test of their new fiscal policies? They didn't even try. In fact, they openly used fat slabs of pork to round up votes for the controversial bill, which also called for a troop withdrawal from Iraq by a date certain. (As an aside, what is more absurd than telling guerrilla fighters the date on which they will win?)

So a co-op in Hawaii got $3 million for its sugarcane emergency, $24 million went to help beet growers, $100 million for citrus growers, $74 million for peanut storage and $283 million for milk subsidies in spite of record high farm income the past three years. Shrimp farmers, NASA, even the 14 states that have irresponsibly overspent for health care, all found congressional champions willing to sponsor their entry in the $21 billion feeding frenzy.

President Bush, as always, was outraged. But he threatened a veto only if the troop withdrawal date was left in the bill, not on the grounds of unjustified special-interest spending.

What choice did he have? After years of signing off on record-busting amounts of pork when Republicans were in power, he would have looked small and partisan to change course now.

The new Congress is trying hard to go on record against earmarks while still enjoying them. In January, the Senate approved 98-0 the De-Mint rule, requiring disclosure of earmarks, as an amendment to the ethics bill. Yet that bill, unsurprisingly, is floundering in the House and the earmarks pipeline is wide open. Not only is the pork-laden defense bill sailing along, but appropriations chairs have already e-mailed members to submit their requests for nondisclosed appropriations.

Moreover, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has been rebuffed twice in trying to bring an immediate floor vote on a rule requiring full disclosure of earmarks. That seems strange since there were 98 votes for his amendment which would have done the same thing if it had somehow survived the process of becoming law.

After DeMint's last failure, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said, Its a sad day in the Senate because were playing games with the American people.

Hes right. Our elected leaders are trifling with us. They know what we want because they promise fiscal restraint and lower taxes during campaigns, then blow it off once the election is over. The Democrats have already released a budget requiring higher taxes to support the new spending.

The beat goes on. The only thing that matters is the next election. Maybe we should have known better.

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