Tag: appropriations committee

Rep. Jeff Flake to Appropriations

In-coming House Speaker John Boehner’s endorsement of Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for a seat on the chamber’s appropriations committee means that it’s probably a done deal. Flake is one of the few policymakers who actually lives up to the fiscal conservative label. Thus, Flake’s appointment to a committee that many members think only exists to increase spending on special interests would be welcome news.

Boehner also endorsed a suggestion from Rep. Jeff Kingston (R-GA), who has mounted a dark-horse campaign to chair the appropriations committee, to create a subcommittee focused on investigating federal programs. Flake would chair this subcommittee, and according to a release on his website, he has already lined up worthy targets like Head Start and farm subsidies.

How much success will Flake have within the committee?

The New York Times quotes Flake as boldly saying, “It has been a favor factory for years, and now it is going to become a slaughterhouse.” At the same time, Flake acknowledged to Politico that putting a few anti-spenders on appropriations isn’t going to be enough:

Flake said the conservatives that Boehner wants to get on the committee will be “marginalized” if they’re scattered throughout the panel.

“It’s not enough just to have a few going on the committee,” he said. “They could be dispersed among the subcommittees that are forgotten.”

I recently warned the House Republican leadership against serving tea party voters re-heated meatloaf by allowing old-school spenders to dominate the committees. Getting Jeff Flake on appropriations is a step in the right direction, but his appointment can’t be a token gesture. Anti-spenders like Flake will need support from their leadership to succeed because they sure won’t be making friends with the big-spending old bulls.

Rep. Kingston’s Spending Cut Plan

An indicator of the incoming House Republican majority’s seriousness about cutting spending will be which members the party selects to head the various committees.

Many of the members in line to chair committees leave a lot to be desired from a limited government perspective (see here and here). In particular, the top candidates in line to chair the critical House Appropriations Committee, Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), are about as inspiring as re-heated meatloaf when it comes to their potential for pushing serious spending reforms.

According to the Wall Street Journal, appropriator Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), is eyeing the chairman’s gavel even though he’s only fifth in line in terms of seniority. Kingston has put together a spending restraint plan in PowerPoint for consideration by the 26 member Republican Steering Committee, which will decide on committee chairs.

Although the Journal notes that Kingston is “no spending virgin,” there is a lot to like about his plan, which is promisingly entitled “Changing the Culture: A New Vision for the House Appropriations Committee.”

Here are my thoughts on the plan’s contents:

  • One slide shows a list of “Big Stuff” and places at the top “State Addiction to the Federal Government.” The language is perfect and indicates that Kingston recognizes that federal aid to the states is a significant issue that needs to be addressed. Reinstituting “fiscal federalism” is one of the chief principles of reform addressed on the Downsizing Government website.
  • The same slide acknowledges the trillion dollar cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This inclusion perhaps signals that Kingston is prepared to get serious about reining in defense spending, unlike many Republicans.
  • Kingston proposes new spending caps that would work to eventually reduce total federal spending to 18 percent of GDP. He notes that “This approach would require Congress to focus on the actual problem of spending, as opposed to deficits, which are a symptom.” Only interest on the debt would be off limits from sequestration should Congress fail to adhere to the spending caps.
  • Kingston calls federal grants “the new earmarks” and singles out the $7.2 billion broadband grant program for criticism, noting that it “pay[s] companies to do what they would do on their own.” As I recently explained, eliminating earmarks but keeping the federal grant programs that fund the same activities would amount to a Pyrrhic victory.
  • Kingston calls for more “budget hawks” on the appropriations committee, and singles out spending reformer Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for inclusion on the committee. He also calls for getting “members off subcommittees in which they are unable to take hard votes.” Amen. If Republicans want to cut spending, then they need to put members on the committees who will actually vote to do it.

The Journal explains that the GOP leadership, in particular incoming House Speaker John Boehner, had better take Kingston’s candidacy seriously:

Officially, committee chairs are selected by the 26 or so person GOP Steering Committee, but Mr. Boehner has five votes on the panel and he can block anyone from getting the nod. A Steering Committee decision can be overturned by a vote of the full GOP House conference, and the leadership should worry that selecting someone like Mr. Rogers could lead to a rank-and-file revolt.

Republicans claim to be the party of fiscal probity and that they’ve learned from their demise in 2006. Mr. Kingston’s proposals are the kind of creative thinking that Republicans are going to need to carry out the principles and agenda they say they believe in.

When tea party voters helped give the Republicans a second chance at reining in government spending, they didn’t have in mind re-heated meatloaf – they want steak. Boehner and the House GOP leadership would be wise to oblige, or else these voters might dine elsewhere in 2012.

Cohn vs. AFP

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn accuses Americans for Prosperity (AFP) of “lies” for running an ad that claims “Washington wants to bring Canadian-style healthcare to the U.S.”

AFP’s ad is more defensible than Cohn’s criticisms of it.

Cohn elides the question of whether Shana Holmes (the woman featured in the ad) was almost killed by Canada’s Medicare system.  For a supporter of single-payer like Cohn, that is tantamount to admitting that, yeah, socialized medicine sometimes kills people.

Cohn argues that the ad is unfair because Canada has many advantages over the U.S. health care sector.  That may be true, but the ad doesn’t appear to defend American health care.  It merely says, “government should never come in between your family and your doctor” and “Don’t give up your rights.”  That’s not pro-American health care or anti-reform.  It’s just anti- the type of reform that Cohn wants.  And it points to one area where our semi-socialized U.S. health care sector appears to be superior to Canada’s: quicker access to intensive treatments.  Sometimes, that saves lives.  In fact, AFP could go farther and say that the United States has another edge over Canada, in that we develop nearly all of the best new medical technologies.  In fact, our medical technologies save Canadian lives, but Canada’s health care system (and its supporters) steal the credit.

Yet “the real lie,” Cohn claims, is that the ad suggests that “Washington” wants to impose a Canadian-style system on the United States.  Cohn calls that claim “demonstrably false.” But consider:

  • President Obama has said he would prefer single-payer and has hinted that he would like to make incremental changes in that direction.
  • Many people who support a new public plan (e.g., Paul Krugman) do so because they believe it will lead to single-payer.
  • Massachusetts, which has already implemented most of the reforms that Obama and congressional Democrats are considering, is now contemplating a large leap toward Canadian-style health care by imposing capitation on its entire health care sector.
  • Government rationing becomes increasingly likely as government revenues fail to keep pace with the cost of government’s health care promises.  (See again, Massachusetts.)
  • The Left wants government to ration care.  That’s the point of the comparative-effectiveness research funding.  That draft House Appropriations Committee report committed a classic Washington gaffe when it said that certain treatments “would no longer be prescribed,” because it was admitting the truth.

Cohn is correct that no politician of influence is saying she wants to impose a Canadian-style system on the United States.  But I prefer to pay attention to what they’re doing.

AFP: 1.  Cohn: 0.

Amazing Coincidences

The coincidences that occur in Washington, D.C. are truly extraordinary.  According to the Washington Post:

The headquarters of Murtech, in a low-slung, bland building in a Glen Burnie business park, has its blinds drawn tight and few signs of life. On several days of visits, a handful of cars sit in the parking lot, and no trucks arrive at the 10 loading bays at the back of the building.

Yet last year, Murtech received $4 million in Pentagon work, all of it without competition, for a variety of warehousing and engineering services. With its long corridor of sparsely occupied offices and an unmanned reception area, Murtech’s most striking feature is its owner – Robert C. Murtha Jr., 49. He is the nephew of Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has significant sway over the Defense Department’s spending as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

Robert Murtha said he is not at liberty to discuss in detail what his company does, but for four years it has subsisted on defense contracts, according to records and interviews. He said Murtech’s 17 employees “provide necessary logistical support” to Pentagon testing programs that focus on detecting chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, “and that’s about as far as I feel comfortable going.” Giving more details could provide important clues to terrorist plotters, he said.

Murtha said he does not advertise being the nephew of John Murtha and considers it “unfortunate” that some will unfairly assume Murtech received its federal contracts because of his uncle’s influence at the Pentagon.

“If we’re not doing our job well, we wouldn’t be doing our job,” he said. “I’m successful at the work I do because of the skill sets I have… . You don’t know how good someone is unless you work with them.”

A spokesman at Murtha’s office did not return calls seeking comment. The lawmaker, a former Marine, has said in the past that he is proud of his family’s service to the military and the government.

Over the years, John Murtha has proudly claimed credit for using his Appropriations Committee seat to steer hundreds of millions in Pentagon work to companies in his district, many of them fledgling enterprises run by campaign contributors. His influence also may be seen in the military improvements at the Johnstown airport that bears his name. The little-used commuter airport doubles as a wartime preparedness facility for the Pentagon after $30 million in improvements.

Murtha’s power has had beneficial effects within his family. His brother, Robert C. “Kit” Murtha, built a longtime lobbying practice around clients seeking defense funds through the Appropriations Committee and became one of the top members of KSA, a lobbying firm whose contractor clients often received multimillion-dollar earmarks directed through the committee chairman.

Of course there is no relationship between Rep. John Murtha’s position and the taxpayer money collected by his relatives.  Still, it is amazing how things like this just seem to happen when Capitol Hill gets involved.

The Beginnings of Earmark Transparency

Under reforms announced in March, House members have to publicly declare the earmarks they’re requesting from the Appropriations Committee. Most of the requests have now been published and WashingtonWatch.com has assembled a state-by-state catalogue of links to Members’ earmark requests.

Getting earmark requests published is progress. Getting them published in uniform, machine-readable formats would allow the public to do really thorough oversight of all the projects that Members of Congress think federal taxpayer dollars should go to.

In December, we had a policy forum called “Just Give Us the Data!” where we explored some of the current issues in government transparency.