This week, conservative leaders went on a retreat to discuss an earmark reform plan led by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) that “may include a moratorium on earmarking until 2009.” Yesterday, in his State of the Union address, President Bush called on Congress to cut earmarks in half.
Behind the curtains, however, many conservatives are finding that old habits die hard. Several Republican appropriators complain that “Boehner is going too far.” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) said he “is not about to embrace a mandatory reduction in earmarks.” David Hobson (R-OH) ripped his party’s leaders: “It’s kind of an emotional thing they’re trying to do…it’s a PR move.”
This morning, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), a sponsor of the earmark moratorium legislation, ranted about the attention the internal squabbling is receiving:
You know, as those debates have gone on, it is amazing to me, Mr. Speaker, to look at the morning headlines here in Washington, DC. It shows the difference between the Muncie Star Press and newspapers out here. ‘Earmarks, page 1.’ ‘The focus on the President’s sudden severity is drawing bipartisan criticism.’ Roll Call says ‘earmarks still roil the GOP.’ And the Politico, not to be outdone, repeats the exact same headline, ‘Earmark Debate Roils GOP ranks.’
It’s only in Washington, DC where one party engages in a vigorous debate about how we restore public confidence in the federal budget process that the focus, then, is on the debate in the party that wants to bring about change.
The conservatives’ political posturing over earmarks seems purely an effort to get headlines without actually bringing about change. When Rep. David Obey (D-WI) just last month proposed whacking “an estimated 9,500 earmarks worth about $9.5 billion” from an omnibus spending plan, he ran into deep opposition from conservatives. Conservative bloggers even criticized their party for not supporting the plan.
Read more on the 110th Congress’s strides in reducing wasteful spending here.
UPDATE: TPM’s Paul Kiel writes, “It’s pretty safe to say that before the Bush administration, most Americans had no idea what an earmark was. But Bush, the earmark president, the man who presided over and enabled the Republican Congress during the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals, changed that.”