A Republican House leadership staffer just forwarded me the following letter that Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) sent to the Wall Street Journal in response to today’s editorial, “The Minority Maker.”
Kudos to the Journal for awakening the sleeping giant. It’s too bad Lewis didn’t correct the “factual inaccuracies” after my piece ran last Friday. I might also mention that Rep. Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.), an appropriator himself, had an opportunity to rebut what I wrote when I asked him about it on Monday.
Here’s the letter Lewis sent to the Journal:
It has been said that facts are stubborn things. They are hard to refute and difficult to dismiss. I welcome any objective criticism of my service as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that is based on facts. However, the April 13 editorial, “Minority Maker” is so riddled with factual inaccuracies I am writing to set the record straight.
The Wall Street Journal editorial ignores the revolutionary reforms that have taken place at the Committee in the last year. Rather than being the alleged refuge for big spenders as the Journal contends, the House Appropriations Committee has played the leading role in reducing federal spending. As a result of reforms put in place by the Committee last year, Congress reduced non-security discretionary spending below the year before for the first time since the Reagan Administration. .
Just last year, we eliminated 53 programs saving taxpayers $3.5 billion, cut earmark funding by nearly $3 billion, passed each of our bills on time and under budget, and avoided a massive, year-end omnibus budget package. As we implemented these changes, the committee defeated $18 billion Democrats tried to add in politically popular spending. We also reduced, from 13 to 11, the number of Appropriations subcommittees (a fact overlooked by the recent editorial) allowing the Committee to spend less time on process and more time providing necessary oversight of federal spending.
The Appropriations Committee’s concern over proposals in the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Resolution is not about how to reduce spending. Appropriators remain committed to continuing last year’s successes with reducing discretionary spending and will support a resolution with those tough fiscal constraints.
The Committee strongly supports reforming the earmark process and has led by example. We have dramatically reduced the number of projects and the dollars spent on them since in the past year. Our concern is that any reforms we enact need to be comprehensive and address earmarks where ever they appear. The infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” which was allocated $233 million of the taxpayer’s dollars, was part of the highway reauthorization bill and was not a part of the Appropriations process. It would not be addressed by any of the proposals by budget reformers. Earmark reform that does not address the “Bridge to Nowhere” is not real reform.
Finally, one of our proudest accomplishments was that, for the first time in years, Congress avoided a year-end omnibus budget package last year. In 2004, Congress wrapped up its budget work with a 3,500 page monstrosity that was more than a foot thick. This type of legislating breeds fiscal mischief and should be avoided at all costs. The proposed procedural reforms would allow any member from either party who thought spending was either too high or too low to disrupt the Appropriations process.
Appropriations bills must be passed every year. Failure to pass spending bills raises the specter of a government shutdown. Our last experience with this, in 1995, did not turn out so well for the Republicans in Congress. Politically, it led to a loss of seats for our majority in the next two election cycles, and the easy re-election of a president who just a year earlier had been declared “irrelevant.” Any reforms we enact should make it easier, not harder, to get our work done on time and under budget.
I welcome constructive dialogue with anyone–Wall Street Journal editorial writers included–interested in real reform that serves the interests of taxpayers.
Committee on Appropriations