After Promising To End Earmarks, Tea Party Freshmen Hog Defense Pork

Tea Party freshmen who were swept into office largely based on their pledge to end congressional pork are apparently hogging the trough. Capitol Hill Blue reports that members of the Tea Party Caucus filled the latest defense appropriations bill with millions of dollars of earmarks for projects in their home districts:

While talking the big plan to be fiscally responsible the Republican freshmen have packed a huge $553 billion spending bill with millions of pet defense projects for their home districts.[…]

For example, freshman GOP Rep. Bobby Shilling put in $2.5 million for weapons and munitions advanced technology for the Quad City Manufacturing Lab at Rock Island Arsenal, which just happens to be in his district. During his campaign against Democrat Phil Hare last year, Schilling criticized Hare for adding money to defense budgets for the same facility.

GOP frosh Vicky Hartzler of Missouri packed the bill with $20 million for “mixed conventional load capability for Air Force bombers,” for Whiteman Air Force Base in her district. Hartlzler backed the GOP moratorium on earmarks during her campaign. Now she says she didn’t think the moratorium applied to defense spending.

The list goes on. In Mississippi, Steven Palazzo (R) used anti-pork rhetoric to beat out longtime Democrat Gene Taylor. Palazzo added nearly $30 million to the defense bill for projects in his district. Disdain for “pork barrel spending” was, of course, a central feature of all of these representatives’ campaigns.

This betrayal of Tea Party principles isn’t new for the freshmen members, who seemed to have discovered the benefits of cozying up to lobbyists the second they set foot in Washington. According to The Washington Post, GOP freshman Kristi Noem (SD) is just one of at least 13 new Republican lawmakers who hired lobbyists to run their offices. During her campaign, Noem railed against special interest groups for “throwing money at the feet of a member of Congress,” and made a big issue of her opponent’s marriage to a lobbyist. In their first few weeks in office, dozens of freshman lawmakers “had fundraisers to collect millions of dollars from lobbyists and other deep-pocketed interests.”

Dana Milbank noted that it was probably inevitable the Tea Party base would be betrayed, “but the speed with which congressional Republicans have reverted to business-as-usual has been impressive.” Hartzler’s novel justification — that the earmark moratorium doesn’t apply to defense spending — is revealing. Apparently pork isn’t pork if it’s for big hairy weapons systems. The unspoken reasoning is that the freshmen are confident they won’t get tagged for violating their pledge if they can spin it as being “tough on defense.”

They shouldn’t bet on it. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 51 percent of Americans support cutting defense spending to reduce the deficit. Nevertheless, the Tea Party freshmen’s rapid turnaround illustrates an unfortunate political truth: it’s only pork when your opponent does it.