The GOP and earmarks

The recent intransigence of congressional Democrats as they side with green extremists and refuse to advance spending bills that might be amended to end the moratorium on offshore oil drilling has made Republicans in the nation’s capital happy for two reasons.

First, Democrats thus make it clear it’s more important to them to stay in the good graces of radical environmentalists than to allow private oil companies to risk their own capital looking for more domestic oil — a plan that would not only make good economic sense in this era of high fuel prices but also has the support of a sizable majority of inflation-battered Americans.

But it’s also good news for GOP lawmakers because the issue has quickly eclipsed their own plan to make spending “earmarks” into a leading campaign issue.

Although a moratorium on such earmarks was declared only a few months ago to be a key plank in the House GOP’s fall platform, the truth is, “The appetite for home state earmarks among Republicans — including some party leaders — is almost as great as ever,” The Associated Press reports, “despite warnings from some conservatives that GOP lawmakers’ refusal to give up their earmarks is costing support among core constituencies.”

Roy Blunt, for example — the Missouri lawmaker who’s the No. 2 Republican in the House — was touting the GOP’s “desire for change (on earmarks) and our commitment to get it done” as recently as last February. But last month, Rep. Blunt displayed no qualms about bragging as he hauled home a host of pork projects, including $500,000 for an energy-efficient roof on a local courthouse and a $1 million renewable energy research grant for a college.

This issue had such traction earlier this year that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was entertaining the idea of a temporary moratorium on pet projects and grants. Strong resistance from rank-and-file Democrats dissuaded her. Democrats then blocked a plan by House Republicans to impose a temporary ban on earmarks until new bipartisan reforms could be proposed.

The issue seemed like a perfect ground on which to attack majority Democrats as spendthrifts unwilling to pay heed to any constitutional limits on their powers to tax and spend. Party conservatives tried to persuade Republicans to unilaterally give up their own pork in order to draw a contrast with earmark-hungry Democrats. “But an informal tally found Republicans against the idea by a significant margin, and it was dropped,” reports The AP.

Still, 41 House members, including four Democrats, have sworn off earmarks this year. And former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who heads the conservative Club for Growth, says Republican voters are responding favorably to anti-earmark candidates, who won recent House primaries in Pennsylvania and California.

So, could “earmarks” still be an election issue for Sen. John McCain and other reform-minded Republicans?

Yes it could.

No, Republicans have not been immune in the past from the temptation to loot the Treasury of hard-earned tax dollars in order to fund some local “escarole research farm.” But leadership is not about lowering one’s standards to those of the back-sliding back bencher. Sen. McCain must not back off his vow to eliminate earmarks and other such “set-asides” when elected, lending much needed moral support to the 41 conservative stalwarts who are still “on the wagon.”

He should dare members of his own party to join him — even those currently hip-deep in porkfat.

Repentance and salvation are always in reach. All it takes is the will. Then we can see how Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi do.

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