Earmarks and GOP Hypocrisy

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On the official GOP blog the party has a post attacking Obama and Clinton on their earmarks.  In Bush’s State of the Union address he said, “If you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I’ll send it back to you with my veto.”

I used to vote for Republicans in the early to mid ’90s because they took stands like these.  Stands to cut spending, balance the budget, get rid of the waste, and pay down the huge national debt that is threatening to bankrupt our country.  When Reagan took office he gave a speech shortly after — February 5th, 1981 — that railed against budget deficits and the national debt.  In part he said:

Today the debt is $934 billion.  So-called temporary increases or extensions in the debt ceiling have been allowed twenty-one times in these ten years, and now I’ve been forced to ask for another increase in the debt ceiling or the government will be unable to function past the middle of February — and I’ve only been here sixteen days.  Before we reach the day when we can reduce the debt ceiling, we may in spite of our best efforts see a national debt in excess of a trillion dollars.  Now, this is a figure that’s literally beyond our comprehension.

When Ronald Reagan left office in 1988 the national debt was $2.6 trillion.  The national debt almost tripled under his watch.  In the mid ’90s the Republicans again said they would embrace fiscal responsibility.  Here’s an excerpt from the Contract with America:

On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government…SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse

[…]

Thereafter, within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, we shall bring to the House Floor the following bills, each to be given full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote and each to be immediately available this day for public inspection and scrutiny.

1. THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT

A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.

The line-item veto was in part for presidents to be able to veto earmarks in a spending bill before signing the bill.  President Bill Clinton worked with the new Republican Congress to balance the budget and work towards paying down the debt, however, once the Republicans took control of the White House their interest in fiscal responsibility seemed to disappear.  This was probably due to the fact that they were in power and could now spend the money “the proper way.”  Everyone has heard of the Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” that cost us, the taxpayers, $223 million.  Lou Dubose of The Washington Spectator has some interesting facts:

Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress, who spent years on the Appropriations staff, agrees. He is directing journalists to a report the Congressional Research Service released two days before Bush’s address. It’s called “Earmarks in Appropriations Acts: FY 1994 . . . FY 2005”, and it documents Bush’s indifference to the earmarked items tacked onto bills by individual legislators.

• The VA, HUD, and other agencies’ appropriations bills included 469 individual earmarks in 2000. The number had gone up to 2,080 by 2005.

• Defense Department earmarks increased from 997 in 2000 to 2,506 in 2005.

• Labor, Health and Human Services and Education earmarks soared from 491 in 2000 to 3,014 in 2005.

• At Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary, earmarks went from 361 in 2000 to 1,722 in 2005.

There were about 15,000 earmarks in 2005.  The cost: $47 billion.  All this with Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress.  Our national debt is now over $9.2 trillion and climbing.  Now that the Republicans have lost Congress and therefore their ability to add substantial earmarks they’re calling for an end to earmarks.  No doubt they’ll start those earmarks once again when and if they take back Congress in the future.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe we need to pay off our national debt and that ending wasteful earmarks is something worthwhile.  History shows, however, that Republicans aren’t interested in actually ending earmarks, balancing the budget, and paying down the national debt when they’re in power so please excuse me if I believe their interest in earmarks this year is simply to score political points.    The Who said it best, “I won’t get fooled again.”