A few weeks ago, I called on the President and Congress to listen to the demands for real change coming from the American people in campaign ’08 and to act immediately — without waiting for the election.
Speaking directly to the President and Congress, this is what I said:
"The country is speaking loudly and clearly. The American people are rejecting the special interests, and the bureaucratic status quo in Washington. The question for you now is: What are you going to do about it?"
Well, today at least on one front, the answer is in. President Bush and the Congress, led by House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio), are leading an all-out fight for real change by ending the undemocratic, corrupt practice of pork-barrel spending through earmarks.
It’s more then a dry exercise in accounting. It’s the first step in the fight for real change. It’s a fight to begin to restore accountability to how your tax dollars are spent in Washington.
It’s a fight to reclaim the fiscally conservative soul of the Republican Party.
And we owe our congratulations to President Bush, Congressman Boehner and everyone leading the charge.
‘If These Items Are Truly Worth Funding, Congress Should Debate Them in the Open and Hold a Public Vote’
President Bush, you might remember, made fighting earmarks a centerpiece of his State of the Union Address last week — and for good reason.
Just before Christmas, the Democratic Congress had sent the President a $516 billion spending bill that was over-run with pork — almost 9,000 special interest pet projects had been added to the bill. Even worse, most of the pork wasn’t in the actual bill that was voted on by Congress. It was secretly slipped into the committee reports that accompany the bill — endless bureaucratic documents that only a select few members read before they voted.
The President signed the spending bill, but he got the last word in his State of the Union Address last week. He announced two real changes to the way Washington spends our money:
- The President pledged that he will veto any appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks by half.
- And he announced an Executive Order, which was just issued, directing the federal government to ignore any earmarks that are not part of the actual bill voted on by Congress. What this means is that pet projects that are quietly included in the committee reports that accompany the bills — such as the bulk of the pork in the pre-Christmas spending bill — will no longer be acted on. "If these items are truly worth funding," the President said, "Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote."
Republicans Throw Down the Gauntlet of Reform — Democrats Refuse To Pick It Up
Even before the President’s State of the Union, Congressional Republicans took on the challenge of real change in how Washington spends our money.
On January 25, House Republicans called for a moratorium on earmarks and invited the Democratic majority to join them in a bipartisan effort to permanently end Washington’s addiction to pork.
House Republicans gave House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majority a week to consider their offer.
But last Friday, the deadline for Democratic action came and went with no response.
As Republican Leader Boehner put it in an op-ed yesterday: "With the majority’s refusal to stop the earmarks, the circle is now complete. The leaders of the Democratic majority, who once promised to change the status quo in Washington spending, have become its champion."
Republicans Move Forward With Real Change
Moreover, and to the Republicans’ credit, the House Democrats’ failure to act has not stopped the Republican caucus from their goal of earmark reform.
Once again, Rep. Boehner put it well: "House Republicans have changed, too. We fully recognize the failure to control earmarks helped cost our party the majority, and dramatic change is needed."
Until Democrats come on board for fundamental change, House Republicans have vowed to set higher standards for themselves when it comes to spending the American people’s money.
House Republicans have agreed to:
- No More "Monuments to Me": Ending the use of taxpayer money to fund projects named after members of Congress.
- No More "Airdropping" Pork at the Last Minute: Ending the practice of avoiding scrutiny of pet projects by adding them to legislation at the last minute.
- No More "Front" Groups to Launder Earmarks: Ending the practice of designating earmarks for "front" operations that mask the true recipients of pork-barrel spending.
A Fight That’s Not Going Away Anytime Soon
House Republicans are the first to admit that the measures they’ve agreed to are just the beginning. To achieve real change, they need the cooperation of Democrats. Now is the time for all our leaders in Washington to put aside partisan advantage and seize this moment.
And if the anger and frustration of the American people over the lack of accountability for spending in Washington isn’t enough to convince Democrats to act, this fact should be: Earmark reform is not a fight that is going away anytime soon.
Earmark reform will not only be a major issue for Republicans in Congress this year (Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has just appointed a Republican task force chaired by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to address earmark reform), it will also be a major fight in the battle for the White House.
And in this fight, on this critical issue of restoring accountability and integrity to how Washington uses our money, Republicans have a decisive advantage.
Real World Stories of Pork Barrel Corruption from Real Change
In my new book, Real Change: From the World that Fails to the World that Works (autographed copies available at newt.org), I devote a chapter to restoring fiscal sanity and accountability to Washington. Eliminating pork-barrel spending is a key first step.
I give real world examples of Congress’s addiction to pork, and the lengths some members go to hide it from the American people.
In one amazing example included in the book, Congressman and earmarker extraordinaire John Murtha (D.-Pa.) sought a $1 million earmark for something called the "Center for Instrumental Critical Infrastructure" in his home district. When Rep. Jeff Flake (R,-Ariz.) challenged the earmark, saying the existence of the center could not be verified, the committee chairman responsible for the spending agreed: He didn’t know whether Murtha’s project existed either. Still, Flake’s challenge to the earmark failed by a vote of 326 to 98.
The Reformers for Real Change Deserve Our Support
These kinds of pork-barrel spending are abuses of power and abuses of the public trust — not to mention a waste of taxpayer dollars. They cannot be allowed to continue.
The next step is for full transparency. The full text of congressional spending bills should be released online to the public at least 72 hours before voting on the bill. This would allow the American people (including members of Congress) to know what is in the bill before it is voted on.
But let’s acknowledge any step in the right direction. No one has been tougher on the candidates and elected officials of both parties about changing the broken bureaucratic, special interest culture of Washington than I have been. That’s why it gives me so much pleasure to see some of our leaders making real progress on real change. Their efforts deserve the support of all Americans, regardless of party.
The American people have spoken, and their leaders are beginning to respond with real change. But it’s not enough that just Republicans act. Democrats have to have the courage to act as well. And if and when they do, it will be a victory, not only for accountability in spending, but for the people’s voice in their own government.
So here are two cheers for Republican leadership on earmark reform. I’m saving all three cheers for when real change becomes a bipartisan cause.
P.S. — Transparency in government spending is not just a fight in Washington. Many states are leading the way in giving the taxpayers greater access and control over how their money is being spent. For more information, I encourage you to visit Americans for Tax Reform and the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research.
P.P.S. — I have two public events coming up this week that I want to encourage you to attend. On Saturday, I will be speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in Washington. See Newt.org for details. And on Thursday, I will be talking about my book, Real Change, at the American Enterprise Institute. Register here.
P.P.P.S. — Tonight, I will join the Young Republican Super Tuesday "Watch Parties" across the country via conference call to analyze the day’s results and talk a little more about Real Change. You can find out the location of the watch party near you and the number to call by visiting their website, yrnf.com, or, if you are on Facebook, visiting their Facebook page.