The Prince of Pork

Harold Rogers of Kentucky does not seem like an obvious choice to head the House Appropriations Committee in the new Tea Party-energized Republican Congress.  He’s known as “The Prince of Pork,” and not because of regular attendance at the local pit barbecue.  He has over $250 million in earmarks sewn into his royal robes… from just the last two years.  This is not a profile likely to please the Tea Party faithful.

One of the other 59 members of the Appropriations Committee is Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is the sort of representative that knows his way around a Tea Party rally.  He pronounced himself a “hard no” on the President’s tax deal, and that was before Senate Democrats turned it into their Christmas wish list of “green” subsidies, infrastructure spending, and a Red Ryder BB Gun.  He told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he thought the Republicans could get “a better deal” on taxes and spending if they waited until January.  It looks like greedy Democrats are about to grant his wish.

How does he feel about Hal Rogers as the chair of his committee?  He told Hewitt, “as far as the chairman, I think whoever would have been chairman on the committee, you would have, you know, a problem in terms of hey, they’ve all supported pork barrel spending, they’ve all been earmarkers, every last one of them that’s one the committee.  So to find somebody to be chairman who has a better record on spending would have been difficult.  So I think whoever it was, we would have had a tough road to hoe going ahead.”

Andrew Stiles at National Review Online elaborates:

“Flake argues that the GOP’s lack of desirable candidates for chairman is indicative not only of how corrupting the appropriations process has become, but also of why Republicans were rejected at the polls in 2006 and 2008.  In other words, Republicans started spending like Democrats.  ‘It doesn’t say much good about us as a party,’ he says.  ‘The key now is to turn and go in the other direction.’”

It’s important to remember that our corpulent government didn’t get that way with a single congressional trip to the Treasury’s pit barbecue.  The objective of the Tea Party is to change the system, not merely adjust its results.  It is the conceptual difference between arguing that the extension of the “Bush tax cuts” is necessary for economic stimulus, versus destroying the foolish notion of calling them “tax cuts” at all.  We have to change the way Washington thinks, and speaks.

Toward this end, Hal Rogers has been talking about fiscal discipline and budget cutting.  “The nation is in a fiscal crisis, and hard decisions are coming,” Fox News quotes him as saying.  Yes, it wasn’t exactly a “hard decision” to lug two hundred and fifty million greenbacks to his home district in Kentucky, but he claims to have seen the error of his ways.  A permanent change to the badly broken spending machinery in Washington would involve a lot of people like Rogers seeing the error of their ways.

How’s it going so far?  Early reviews are mixed.  Rogers was big on oversight when he ran for his committee chairmanship, but he rejected Flake’s idea of putting together an all-star oversight subcommittee full of chainsaw-wielding budget cutters.  Stiles in National Review quotes Rogers as explaining, “If we did that, the twelve other subcommittees may not vigorously do their oversight, which they’re better prepared to do because they deal with these agencies every single day.” 

I’m inclined to think Flake has the better of the argument.  It’s time to haul these other twelve subcommittees off to Fat Camp.  The Heritage Foundation has a lovely crash diet program that could help them lose $343 billion in ugly flab overnight… with sufficient discipline.

Rogers said there were “no free passes or untouchable programs” when he was lobbying for the Appropriations chairmanship.  If he means it, and makes good on his promises, his journey from big spender to budget cutter will be a bold success story for Republicans to share with both the Tea Party and the general public.  If he doesn’t mean it, we’re all in big trouble.

Rogers isn’t the only gamble Republicans are taking with committee chairmanships.  Here’s some inspiring conservative speech for you: “I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, Whip McCarthy and the entire republican conference as we repeal ObamaCare, fight rampant job-killing regulations, cut spending and help put folks back to work.”  The speaker was Fred Upton, the guy who banned the incandescent light bulb, now head of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  He’s even got his own version of Jeff Flake, Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, who will run the Health Subcommittee beneath him.

I don’t know what the odds of this strategy working are, but I can tell you what the consequences of failure will be: the Democrats will make sure the only name connected with Appropriations you ever hear about is the “Prince of Pork.”