When Jeff Flake was elected to Congress in 2000 from Arizona’s Sixth Congressional District with the hope of “effectively advanc[ing] the principles of limited government, economic freedom, and individual responsibility,” he was a relatively unknown entity outside Arizona. Some may have dismissed the Arizona newbie as just another congressman out of a 435-member body, but that would have been a big mistake.
Over his seven years in the House, the mild-mannered contrarian has become the bane of porkers everywhere. To the chagrin of his congressional colleagues, the Arizona representative has made a career out of targeting some of Congress’s most outrageous pork projects by introducing amendments to eliminate those projects from congressional spending bills. In 2006, Flake introduced nineteen amendments, putting each member of Congress on record either in favor or in opposition to spending taxpayer dollars on such crucial projects as the National Grape and Wine Initiative, a swimming pool in California, and hydroponic tomato production in Ohio.
This year, Flake was joined by several colleagues in offering 50 such amendments, taking on, among other things, California’s Mule and Packers Museum, Kansas’s Prison Museum, and a South Carolina aquarium. While these amendments didn’t pass, Rep. Flake scored his first win when he took on fellow Republican Patrick McHenry’s Perfect Christmas Tree project — a venture to subsidize North Carolina artists who make holiday decorations. These amendments also allow taxpayers across the country to see which of their representatives are living up to their promises to fight wasteful spending. Unfortunately, the answer is not many. This year, only 16 congressmen voted for all anti-pork amendments.
When it comes to Jeff Flake’s anti-pork crusade, no one is immune — not even the kingmakers sitting on the vaunted Appropriations Committee, also known as Congress’s bacon factory. This past summer, Flake went toe-to-toe with one of Congress’s most notorious porkers, Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha. Flake sought to defund Murtha’s million-dollar earmark for the Center for Instrumental Critical Infrastructure in Pennsylvania, whose existence could not confirmed ahead of the vote.
Now, Jeff Flake wants to take the fight against wasteful pork-barrel spending a step further — he wants to score a much coveted spot on the Appropriations Committee — and fight against wasteful spending from inside the bacon factory itself. Rep. Roger Wicker’s appointment to fill Trent Lott’s Senate seat leaves an empty spot on the Committee with many a representative clamoring to be chosen.
In the world of earmarking, it is the members of the Appropriations Committee who run the show, controlling how much money is spent and who receives it. With that kind of power, it is no surprise that appropriators scored an abysmal average of four percent on the Club for Growth’s 20007 RePORK Card, compared with 25 percent for non-appropriators. Nor is it surprising that a number of Republicans are battling for the spot, all drooling at the prospect of more pork.
Jeff Flake, who doesn’t accept any earmarks, would join the appropriations committee as a desperately needed voice of reason and fiscal responsibility, much as he has done in Congress over the past seven years. In the past, Flake has done a yeoman’s job of shining a bright light on earmarking shenanigans emanating from behind the closed doors of the Appropriations Committee. But as a member of the committee, Flake will be all the more effective in targeting wasteful projects and procedural sleights-of-hand designed to hide the appropriating process from public scrutiny.
At first, some dismissed Flake’s new-found mission as a lost cause, but the word is spreading and grassroots conservatives are making their voices heard. The conservative group, FreedomWorks, headed up by former GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey, has created a special website called Make It Flake, directing conservatives to call or write Minority Leader John Boehner in support of Flake’s bid. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board has also voiced its support for “the anti-appropriator.” Even long-time appropriator and supporter of earmarks Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.) is supporting Flake, arguing that Flake’s selection would constitute an important step towards returning the Republican Party to its fiscal conservative roots. “Are we ready for change?” Rep. Kingston told The Hill. “If we are not up to the challenge to step up to this challenge then we are not ready to assume the majority again.”
The House Republican Steering Committee contains 26 members, with Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt claiming five and two votes respectively. The Steering Committee is expected to vote on a selection sometime next week, giving conservatives a couple of days to let our leaders in Congress know just how fed up we are with business as usual. Some may doubt the conservative movement’s ability to foment change, but one need only remember Harriet Miers’s Supreme Court nomination to know that a united conservative grassroots campaign is capable of making things happen.
If you are interested in honest-to-goodness earmark reform, if you want Congress to stop spending your money on Mule and Packers museums, if you are “embarrassed and ashamed of our own party” as Jeff Flake admitted in 2003, and if you want to see the Republican party return to the principles of Ronald Reagan — who vetoed a 1987 Transportation bill because it contained a measly 152 earmarks — then now is the time to fight back. Since the day he was elected, Jeff Flake refused to back down on behalf of the taxpayers who sent him to Congress. Now, it is our turn to stand up for him.
– Pat Toomey is the president of Club for Growth.