With the likelihood of a takeover of the House likely, Republicans are trying to repeat the magic of 1994 by coming up with a new “Contract with America”:
House Republicans are planning to roll out their election agenda over the next two weeks as they seek to take back the House majority, prepping a list of roughly 20 initiatives — including a few that seem driven by the tea party movement.
One of the GOP proposals would require bills to have a specific citation of constitutional authority, on the heels of criticism that Democrats breached their constitutional limits in Congress with big-ticket bills like health care reform. If a member questioned whether the House had constitutional authority to pass a bill, that challenge would receive debate and a vote.
The second major initiative would encourage — though not require — members of Congress to read bills before they vote. According to a senior House GOP source, Republicans plan to push for a new rule that would require the House to publish the text of a bill online at least three days before the House votes on it, also giving the public an opportunity to review legislation.
Other bills and initiatives that are likely to be launched alongside the agenda include tax policy proposals, health reform proposals and jobs-related measures, though GOP aides involved declined to release any specifics ahead of the unveiling.
The Club for Growth has released a new ad against Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee for United States Senate in Pennsylvania, slamming him for supporting the TARP bailout, cap-and-trade and the wasteful stimulus bill:
Sestak has been taking criticism, and deservedly so, for sponsoring a $350,000 earmark for development of a wind turbine to a non-profit company that has nothing to with energy. The person behind the non-profit, Drew Devitt, owns a for-profit company that specializes in the type of energy that the turbine would be used for, which would violate the House ban on earmarks to for-profit companies.
Over at Politics Daily, Matt Lewis notes that the politicians having the most trouble in primaries this year are appropriators, members of Congress that control the pursue strings:
Now that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has conceded, she has become the latest victim of a growing trend: Appropriations Committee members who have lost this year.
Once thought of as a powerful committee for members wanting to “bring home the bacon,” in today’s political environment sitting on an appropriations panel seems to be an albatross.
“Earmarking is a corrupt practice, plain and simple,” says Andy Roth, a vice president at the conservative Club for Growth. “Voters understand that, but insecure politicians do not. And that’s why the old adage that pork buys you votes doesn’t work. It costs you votes.”
Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who also sits on the committee, lost her primary challenge to Gov. Rick Perry. Perry’s strategy was to run against Washington spending — and it worked.
Rep. Joe Sestak, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln aren’t the only Democrat playing games with earmarks. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is ignoring the rules of the Senate Appropriations Committee and pretty much doing whatever he wants when it comes to disclosure of his earmark requests, according to Washington Watch:
Take a look at Senator Bingaman’s earmark requests [ugly PDF image] for the Energy & Water appropriations bill. It’s a day-late, dollar-short disaster! (Bingaman’s disclosures for other approps bills are collected here.)
Take one funding request, identified only as “Central NM 593.”
The location of the project is “Bernalillo, Valencia, and SandovaNM1 [sic] Counties.”
Its purpose and benefit to taxpayers? Just two words: “Water Supply.”
Nowhere does Senator Bingaman say who will receive the money. It’s something taxpayers might like to know, and the Senate Appropriations Committee requires its disclosure.
Based on that justification, Senator Bingaman got a million dollar payout. A million dollars for a two word justification!
Senator Bingaman’s disclosure for the Energy & Water approps bill is just three pages long. Three pages cover 65 earmark requests, adding up to over half a billion dollars (—and eight percent of something…). Can a half-billion dollars in spending be justified in under three pages?
Two new polls out of Pennsylvania show Rep. Joe Sestak (D) trailing Pat Toomey in the race for United States Senate in Pennsylvania, including a Reuters/Ipsos poll showing Toomey with a 10 point lead among likely voters.
Here is the Reuters poll:
- Toomey: 47%
- Sestak: 37%
- Other: 2%
- Not sure: 15%
Forty-eight percent of voters rank the economy and jobs as their biggest issue. Following behind that, 16% rank the budget and deficits as their issue. Fifty-five percent of registered voters feel that the state is on the wrong track, including 69% of independent voters.
The latest Rasmussen poll shows a closer race:
- Toomey: 45%
- Sestak: 39%
- Other: 5%
- Not sure: 11%
Once you include leaners, Toomey leads Sestak 48% to 42%. Toomey also leads among independent voters, 42% to 27%. Voters are taking a more favorable view of him than they are of Sestak. However, Sestak does have an edge among the 46% of voters who have the economy as their main issue, which has to be a cause for concern for Toomey’s campaign.
But it’s a national referendum, folks. Fifty-eight percent of Pennsylvania voters either “somewhat disapprove” or “strongly disapprove” of the job President Barack Obama is doing.
Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln is down 20 points in the polls, but the Democrat is apparently going to go down swinging—with $1.5 billion of your money. She is the spending problem, in profile.
Last year heavy rain damaged cotton and rice crops across the South. The 2008 farm bill, passed by a Democratic Congress, created the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) to aid farmers hit by such weather-related disasters. The admirable intent was to stop farm-state Senators from looting the Treasury after every early frost or the like. To qualify for SURE funds, farmers are now required to buy crop insurance (federally subsidized to the tune of about $6 billion a year) and to have lost more than 30% of their crop value.
Mrs. Lincoln wants to pull an end run around this law and make Arkansas farmers eligible for retroactive taxpayer payments. The payments would be made even if the recipients didn’t buy crop insurance and even if their damages were as little as 5%. Most small businesses in America suffered far more than a 5% fall in revenues during the recession, but few are getting six-figure handouts from Uncle Sam. Rice and cotton prices have recovered nicely this year in any event.
Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Party’s nominee in Pennsylvania, may have a problem on his hands due to a questionable earmark request:
Sestak has requested a $350,000 grant for the Thomas Paine Foundation, the Allentown Morning Call reports. The Paine Foundation is part of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, a tiny nonprofit (annual income: $14,000) seeking to purge religion from private life. The earmark is for the purpose of developing “a prototype Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT) that could be floated offshore, utilizing recent developments in air bearing technology that allow for more efficient generation of electrical power.”
If the grant is given, the money will go to Drew Devitt, the sole officer of the Thomas Paine Foundation. Devitt “also operates New Way Energy LLC, which is developing wind turbines for offshore use.”
Sestak’s office professes ignorance about this strange arrangement, and let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. But Democrats agreed to a moratorium on for-profit earmarks, and the purpose of the grant is such a mismatch with the purpose of this non-profit that one must ask: When people come begging for money at Sestak’s office, do they do any research into who’s getting the taxpayers’ money, or do they just offer to hand it out will-nilly?
By now you’ve heard about Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) mentioned the idea of bringing back earmarks, which the GOP has had a self-imposed moratorium on for the last year. A day or so later Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) called his colleague, Sen. John McCain, a “liberal” because of his opposition to the practice. I guess Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and Jeff Flake all now have firmly established “liberal” credentials since they have largely led the fight against the practice.
The folks over at Citizens Against Government Waste offer their two cents on the already waning commitment to fiscal stewardship by Republicans:
It looks like House Republicans took a one year moratorium on earmarks to show voters an image that they were fiscally restrained without actually sticking to it. With leadership like this, it won’t be surprising if we saw Republicans lose control of the House as quickly as they win it.
As I’ve said before, earmarks (projects inserted in a spending bill that aren’t vetted or pick winners and losers) aren’t the problem, but a symptom of the fiscal irresponsibility that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) notes has contributed to the “culture of corruption” in Washington.
Cantor’s comments show us that even though Republicans haven’t taken back the House and they’ve already become addicted to the smell of the marble. Business as usual is not going to cut it. In order to prove that you are serious about dealing with spending, you have to begin to show that you are willing to go after waste, even if it’s symbolic.
On Tuesday, I noted that House Republicans may end their self-imposed moratorium on earmark, showing that they still may not have learned their lesson on an issue that appeals to the tea party.
In the other chamber, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is actually calling Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) a liberal because of his opposition to earmarks:
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe attacked fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday as a closet liberal who “gets elected because of one thing - earmarks.”
Specifically, Inhofe was criticizing McCain’s opposition to earmarks, which Inhofe said are simply appropriations.
McCain came under heavy pressure from the right during his reelection campaign this year but is expected to win Tuesday’s GOP primary.
Inhofe did not mention Oklahoma’s junior senator Tom Coburn, also an opponent of earmarks.
I’m no fan of John McCain, but this isn’t a legitimate criticism. I’d much rather hit him on his support of cap-and-trade, legislation he has pushed to silence political speech, and several other statist positions, but opposition to earmarks isn’t one of them.
In an article published yesterday at the Politico, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) signaled a willingness to end the Republicans’ moratorum on earmarks, a bad message to send to tea partyers:
Cantor also signaled that earmarks may come back, after a one-year hiatus in which House Republicans set a moratorium on all earmark requests. But should the spending items reappear, they’ll be based on “merit, not muscle,” he said.
“If there are earmarks, there will be an earmark process that will ensure we’re doing everything we can to show the people that their dollars are not being wasted on monuments to me, on waste and pork,” Cantor said.
The problem with earmarks is two-fold. The obvious is that they are overwhelmingly wasteful and egregious, something that Washington had finally started to get control of. Politicians use them to build monuments to themselves, influence other legislators, pander to constituents by “bringing home the bacon,” reward campaign contributors and to pick winners and losers.
I know some fiscal conservatives and libertarians have adapted Rep. Ron Paul’s view of earmarks. I disagree. Earmarks, while representing a fraction of the budget, are symbolic of everything that we have come to despise about Washington. The practice isn’t subject to a bidding process and there are no hearings on earmarks to determine the merit of a project. Appropriators simply insert a project in a spending bill and the treasury is raided.