While campaigning in Florida for a Republican House candidate, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) told a crowd that his caucus would propose weekly spending cuts should they win the majority in the upcoming mid-terms. Such a promise is welcomed in this day of trillion-dollar budget deficits, but actions speak louder than words and we are seeing signs that this newfound fiscal conservatism may be short lived.
In March, House Republicans enacted a caucus-wide moratorium on earmarks, specific line items that are inserted into spending bills, obviously an easy position to assert when your party is in the minority. But in recent days, Republicans have showed signs that they are not going to hold themselves to that same standard in the likely event that the take control of the lower chamber. In fact, the Pledge to America, the politically safe document Republicans are campaigning on this year, makes absolutely no mention of earmarks.
While earmarks do not account for a significant amount of the overall budget, they are representative of much of what is wrong in Washington. Earmarks have been, as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has called them, the “currency of corruption.” They have been the downfall of congressmen and lobbyists and the ire of groups like the Club for Growth.
Many of the criticisms leveled at earmarks are valid. They are often not subject to competitive bidding or proper oversight, though in recent years, members of both chambers of Congress have been required to disclose their requests for earmarks on their congressional webpage. Additionally, earmarks are often egregiously wasteful. For example, earmarks tucked away in the yet-to-be-approved budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, include $900,000 to build a beach park in Pascagoula, Mississippi, $1 million for potato research, and $22.5 million for bicycle paths in various towns across the country.
If Republicans are truly serious about cutting the size of government, they should take a strong and consistent stand on the sort wasteful spending that caused them to lose their majority in 2006. If they opt for business as usual, the tea party movement will be waiting for them in 2012.