The Corner

Regarding the War on Earmarks

I appreciate Michael Tanner’s desire to keep the pressure on Republicans to ban earmarks in the coming Congress, but he’s not being entirely fair to Eric Cantor when he writes this, as he does today:

House minority whip Eric Cantor, the No. 2 member of the House Republican leadership and a leader of the supposedly more fiscally conservative “young guns,” has said that a GOP-led House would be willing to allow earmarks next year “as long as the spending items have merit.” That caveat is not exactly reassuring. Is there any member of Congress who doesn’t believe that his particular boondoggle has “merit”?

“As long as the spending items have merit” was a direct quote from a Politico piece, not a direct quote of Cantor’s. I don’t know exactly what was said by Cantor and I wonder if something was lost in reporting translation. Maybe it wasn’t. But that merit quote seems to be getting repeated uncritically, unfairly.

For a direct quote, there is this Sept. 30 release from Cantor:

“Earmarks are a symbol of a broken Washington and emblematic of the culture of spending that has dominated Washington for far too long and must be reversed.

“After years of work, I am proud that the House Republican Conference finally adopted an earmark moratorium. In addition, we’ve offered hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts to finally begin to reverse the out-of-control spending.

“Republicans are not the same party that was fired in 2006. We have learned our lesson.”

That’s consistent with Cantor’s recent conversation with Steve Moore. Steve’s piece does actually give us some clear quotes to work with:

Mr. Cantor assures me he understands that this downsizing plan may run into a roadblock from some in his own party. Republican appropriators tripped up the limited-government strategy in the late 1990s and during George W. Bush’s presidency. “We know that appropriators will fight these cutbacks,” he says. “But by eliminating earmarks, we can stop the horse trading that grows agency budgets.”  

That sounds like he’s planning to fight the appropriators on earmarks.

I’m all for keeping the heat on Republicans. I’m all for keeping them honest. But I’m also all for credit where it’s due. 

It’s also worth noting Cantor didn’t start swearing off earmarks yesterday. And he’s more adamantly against them today. With the potential Speaker, John Boehner, having never taken any earmarks (as Mike Tanner notes), signs are pointing in a positive direction for those who want to see them gone. Of course, the final verdict on their authenticity and leadership will all be in the follow-through.

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