Jerry Lewis: Whipping Boy of Congress

During a conference call with bloggers yesterday, Rep. Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.) told me House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R.-Miss.) is tired of having his committee being singled out as the “whipping boy” for fiscal irresponsibility.

Last week I was one of those people singling out Lewis, writing that he and his Appropriations Committee cohorts were to blame for the budget impasse in the House. While I might usually direct such complaints at GOP leaders, this time blame seemed to rest squarely on the shoulders of Lewis, according to an e-mail obtained by the National Taxpayers Union.

Yesterday on the call with Kingston, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, I asked if Lewis’ unwillingness to include a line item for emergencies — the sticking point, according to NTU — was the problem. I also asked Kingston if he supported or opposed budgeting for emergencies. (Click here to listen to audio of our conversation.)

“I support it philosophically, but the problem is, as you know, that we don’t ever save for a rainy day. An emergency fund one day is spent down for something else. And another thing that happens whenever we do emergency spending is that you’ve got a lot of non-emergency items in there. You know, there’s growing frustration with putting so many war supplementals on an emergency basis because it’s no longer an emergency. We’re at war and we know that.

“And then the Hurricane Katrina stuff — we’re getting kind of leery of these emergency funds. But I think the definition of what is an emergency and under what circumstances can that stuff be spent has got to be discussed, because emergency in Washington means something different than it does to you and me.”

I followed up by asking Kingston, who is a member of leadership as vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, how Republicans would come to a resolution.

Conservatives, led by Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), are demanding new rules be put into place for budgeting. Meanwhile, moderates such as Rep. Mike Castle and members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, aren’t happy with the funding levels endorsed by President Bush.

Something provoked Kingston. He rallied to his chairman’s defense, saying Lewis had grown tired of the Appropriations Committee’s becoming the “whipping boy” for such debates.

“I think Jerry Lewis is tired of the Appropriations Committee being the whipping boy. Because, again, on earmarks, the big granddaddy earmark that got everybody in so much trouble wasn’t on an appropriations bill, and yet the Appropriations Committee is the only one that’s going to get earmark reform.

“I’d love to see the transparency on Ways and Means. Where do all these little, strange tax loopholes come from? Who put it in? And why was it put in? Wouldn’t that be educational for us all to know?

“And the transportation bill, I think you can trace that a little bit easier, but there’s a lot of nuances and peculiar things that are put into the energy and commerce bill. What about all the telecom stuff? Which one of the wireless networks asked for this wording and that wording?

“And I think Jerry Lewis is tired of Appropriations always being the whipping boy for things. He’s pushing back, but I think he’s got a good point in doing that. Yet to me, speaking as a Republican here, I think it’s a good thing, because what right now might be a deadlock could in the end give us a better product.”

At this point, fellow blogger and crusading Porkbuster N.Z. Bear interrupted to interject an important point:

“Just to say it out load, the distinction you point out of picking on Appropriations vs. everybody else is one that doesn’t exist at all from my perspective and I think from the activists’ perspective. I would like to see the same rules applied to every committee.”

Kingston’s response:

“Well, I hope y’all will continue to educate your readers on it, because it’s really frustrating to us.”

I’m in N.Z.’s camp on this one: I’m happy to pick on any member of Congress for spending my money irresponsibly. It just so happens that when it comes to the budget, Lewis is standing in the way of a sensible reform.

Look at it this way: We know the United States will be hit by hurricanes this fall. It happens every year. So what’s the harm in budgeting money for that?

Granted, it won’t mean anything if Congress lets the President throw billions away without any accountability, as he’s done on Hurricane Katrina spending. It’s about time the Appropriations Committee got its act together and put into place some sensible reforms as outlined by the Republican Study Committee.

UPDATE — 2:07 p.m.: I neglected to include reactions from other bloggers, who picked up on the other topic that came up during the call. Here’s a link (courtesy of Kington’s blog):


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