A Moment Of Clarity

Fifteen votes out of a hundred.
I haven’t written much about the failure of the Coburn Amendment until today, although it has been the topic of some excellent writing in the blogosphere. Start with Mark Tapscott and work your way outward. The only demand that Tom Coburn made of his fellow Senators was to redirect a couple of pork projects from a list of 14,000 towards the rebuilding of New Orleans, rather than go out and look for new revenues — in other words, new taxes.
What happened when Coburn asked this sacrifice of the Upper Chamber? Hissy fits and threats. As John at Power Line remarked to me in a conversation, whenever Patty Murray and Ted Stevens find themselves on the same side of an issue, the only thing that it can be about is money. Murray stood up and threatened any Senator who dared to vote to kill a couple of pork projects would have their state stripped of any federal programs she and the Appropriations Committee could find. Stevens got up on the floor and bombastically threatened to resign – as if that would be some great loss, with his focus on how to shower Alaskans with federal largesse.
Neither one of them recognized the ghoulishness of insisting on building a $228 million bridge that will service 50 people — fifty people who already use a ferry to cross to the mainland now — when we need money to rebuild bridges destroyed in New Orleans that get much more use now than 50 people living voluntarily on an island.
The GOP, which has campaigned on financial responsibility and reining in government spending, should have used this as their moment to take a stand for common sense and a reduction in the government’s bite. We asked them to do support the Coburn Amendment to show us that they haven’t forgotten that pledge.
What did we get? Fifteen votes out of a hundred. Twleve votes out of 55 Republicans. Of the GOP presidential hopefuls, only George Allen supported Coburn. The rest either couldn’t be bothered to show up (McCain) or outright voted against it (Frist, Coleman, Reed, Dole).
We worked our butts off to get a GOP majority in both houses of Comgress for better fiscal management — and yet in one simple test, only 12 of them vote to support their supposed party platform.
So now we have GOP majorities and capture the White House but can’t cut pork, can’t confirm conservative attorneys on the Supreme Court, and open up new entitlement programs worth billions of dollars for prescription medication?
Talk about a moment of clarity.

Conservative Ire May Provoke Spending Cuts

In a development that will certainly please conservatives who look at the growth in federal government and wonder which party has won the past few elections, the House has begun to turn towards budget reductions and the reduction in federal growth that has long been the GOP standard. In fact, Operation Offset, launched by Rep. Mike Pence, has stirred interest largely due to Tom DeLay’s contention that no further fat could be found in a federal budget that eats up a higher percentage of the nation’s GDP than it ever did during WWII:

Beginning this week, the House GOP lawmakers will take steps to cut as much as $50 billion from the fiscal 2006 budget for health care for the poor, food stamps and farm supports, as well as considering across-the-board cuts in other programs. Only last month, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and other GOP leaders quashed demands within their party for budget cuts to pay for the soaring cost of hurricane relief.
DeLay told a packed room of reporters on Sept. 13 that 11 years of Republican rule had already pared down the federal budget “pretty good.” If lawmakers had suggestions for cuts, DeLay said he would listen, but he was not offering anything up.
But faced with a revolt among many conservatives sharply critical of him for resisting spending cuts, DeLay three weeks later told a closed meeting of the House Republican Conference, “I failed you,” according to a number of House members and GOP aides. Then, in a nod to the most hard-core conservatives, DeLay volunteered, “You guys filled a void in the leadership.”
The abrupt shift reflects a changed political dynamic in the House in which a faction of fiscal conservatives — known as the Republican Study Committee, or RSC — has gained the upper hand because of DeLay’s criminal indictment in Texas, widespread criticism of the Republicans’ handling of Hurricane Katrina, and uncertainty over the future of the leadership, according to lawmakers and aides.

DeLay’s comments stirred a conservative movement that had laid dormant for several years. Most conservatives seemed willing to remain patient with the President as long as he needed to fight the war on terror and to fill empty appellate court seats. Grumblings among deficit hawks had been heard going back to the first couple of years of Bush’s tenure in office but quickly silenced in the attacks on 9/11.
Now, however, a series of missteps by the executive branch has made the RSC indispensable once again. First came Katrina, in the midst of an economic expansion triggered by tax cuts. The apparent abandonment of the cuts, as well as the odd choice of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, has re-energized the conservative movement within the GOP. Tom DeLay got far more humbled by Pence than anything Ronnie Earle filed against him, and while he’s temporarily sidelined, he can’t afford to be outspent or outgunned by other, more palatable conservatives. DeLay needs to re-establish some spending hawk credibility all over again when he comes back if he wants his old position back.
George Bush and Tom DeLay have given the conservatives a dual shot in the arm. Operation Offset also has the benefit of working quite well with the Porkbusters operation in the blogosphere — in fact, they appeared made for one another. Expect this to become a a larger factor in national politics from this point forward.

Pork — It’s What Eats Your Lunch

One of the benefits of the Not One Dime For Porkers campaign applies to the politicians and not to the electorate whose money disappears into these waste-laden programs. Sometimes, when politicians dig into half-baked pork, they find it quite damaging to their political health. Take Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, for example. After making arrangements for a series of federal grants to a Nevada church, Reid now may suffer a bit of indigestion from the fraudulent use of the money:

The money that led to the indictment this week of two Las Vegas pastors and the wife of one of them came from federal grants arranged by Sen. Harry Reid in September 2001, a Reid spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Moving to distance Reid from a possible scandal, aide Tessa Hafen said the senator sought the money on behalf of a nonprofit social services agency and not for the churches or persons who have been accused of mishandling the money.
“The money was administered by the Department of Justice, and it went to the agency in Nevada (Alliance Collegiums Association of Nevada),” Hafen said.
The Rev. Willie Davis, the longtime pastor of Second Baptist Church, and his wife, Emma, were indicted Tuesday on fraud charges with an associate minister, the Rev. McTheron Jones.
They are accused of spending $330,000 from federal grants on themselves although the money was intended for halfway houses for prison inmates in Southern Nevada.

What was Reid doing giving federal money to churches in the first place? Won’t his ACLU allies have a fit over that kind of line-crossing between church and state? I expect that they will want to start a campaign in Nevada noting that Harry Reid represents the front line of the “new theocracy” that threatens America. For my part, I’m pleased to see that Democrats have sympathy for faith-based initiatives, even if they only have sympathy for those which benefit Democrats and crooked clerics instead of the poor and needy.
Putting that aside, this episode demonstrates that pork can be dangerous. Politicians would be wise to avoid it in the future, and allow the taxpayers to bring home their bacon where they know best how to handle it.

Not One Dime For Porkers: A Convergence

porkbusterssm.jpgI have been watching the Porkbusters campaign championed by Instapundit, NZ Bear, Michelle Malkin, and others with a wistful sense of admiration and regret. Normally I would love to dive into the federal budget and find the pork, but due to work obligations, family issues, and other investigations I’m pursuing at the moment on the blog, I simply don’t have the time. Those who have worked hard to make this effort have done a tremendous job in identifying billions of dollars in federal spending on foolishness and waste.
My good friend Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation called me today and asked me why I had not yet blogged about Porkbusters. I told him that without having much to contribute that I didn’t want to distract from the effort made by other bloggers. He suggested that I could assist the program by expanding the Not One Dime More effort to Porkbusters … which I think is an excellent idea.
Not One Dime More targeted the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the failure of GOP leadership to get George Bush’s judicial nominees confirmed or even in process. Now we want to target both parties’ Congressional election commitees, the NRCC and the DCCC, by withholding funds while the parties act to protect their pork. For those representatives who refuse to pare the pork, we need to cut off their political oxygen until they turn blue and their campaign chests grow cold. Tell your Congressperson that while they protect the pork we discover, while they continue to vote for budgets with these useless and wasteful projects when the funding could defray the hurricane relief efforts, we will send Not One Dime to their efforts to re-elect their incumbents.
Voting for outdoor art museums as part of a transportation bill? Not One Dime More for Porkers.
Supporting baseball lessons from a foundation set up by a wealthy former baseball player? Cal Ripken might be a great guy, but the government needs its $3 million for higher purposes. Not One Dime More for Porkers.
Unwilling to rethink priorities and excusing it by demanding that federal money get spent on the ‘burbs as well as the big cities? Not One Dime More for Porkers.
If I can clear some research time, I promise to find more myself. In the meantime, I’ll help out by linking back to races we can target for withholding campaign funds until the pols get the message. We mean to end the pork wagon now.

No Shrimp Left Behind

Congress is spending its lame-duck session trying to pass the remainder of its funding bills before heading home for the holidays. In order to spread some Christmas cheer, lawmakers have stuffed the budgetary goose with plenty of pork, including a measure that Senator John McCain dubbed the No Shrimp Left Behind Act:

The spending plan awaiting President Bush’s signature is packed with them, doling out $4 million for an Alabama fertilizer development center, $1 million each for a Norwegian American Foundation in Seattle and a “Wild American Shrimp Initiative,” and more, much more.
Despite soaring deficits, lawmakers from both parties who approved the $388 billion package last weekend set plenty of money aside for home-district projects like these, knowing they sow goodwill among special interests and voters.
They also raised the ire of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a pork-barrel critic who took to the Senate floor to ask whether shrimp are so unruly and lacking initiative that the government must spend $1 million on them.
“Why does the U.S. taxpayer need to fund this `no shrimp left behind’ act?” he asked.

While I found his book mostly tedious and self-congratulatory, Joe Scarborough described the budget process accurately in Rome Wasn’t Burnt In A Day. The GOP had initially tried to rein in the pork after its “revolution” carried them to power in 1994; budget discipline was a key plank in Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. Unfortunately, Newt overplayed his hand in 1995 when he shut down the federal government over spending policy, and ever since the GOP has porked it up just as badly as the Democrats.
Here’s a partial list of the fabulous programs for which we’ll be spending our money:

Among items in the package: $335,000 to protect North Dakota’s sunflowers from blackbirds, $2.3 million for an animal waste management research lab in Bowling Green, Ky., $50,000 to control wild hogs in Missouri, and $443,000 to develop salmon-fortified baby food. … Ohio Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Democrat, and Steven LaTourette, a Republican, boasted about $350,000 for music education programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

A presidential line-item veto would cure this to some extent, although it also would provide the executive with a heavy hammer with which to beat up its political opponents. The trade-off might be justified in the savings it would create. The issue of balancing power between the two branches seems to me to be moot, since the legislature refuses to police itself in this regard. However, thanks to old porkers like Robert Byrd, any attempt to resuscitate the line-item veto outside of a Constitutional amendment are likely to fail at the Supreme Court, which struck down the last attempt.
Now that the election is over, Bush could finally sharpen his veto pencil and send this embarrassment back to Congress. It’s time to get back to serious budget discipline as a companion piece to tax cuts.