Tag: jim demint

A First Test for Republicans

Republicans’ hands have been strengthened by a wave of voter angst about big-spending and business-as-usual in Washington, D.C. But have they landed on their limited-government feet? The first test of that question comes next Tuesday.

That’s when Senate Republicans will likely vote on a proposal to bar themselves from requesting earmarks. Last year, House Republicans adopted that policy for themselves the day after House Democrats limited their earmarking to non-profits and government bodies.

The Senate Republican earmark ban is championed by Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Its strongest opponent is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Senator McConnell may have won his race in 2008 thanks to bringing home the bacon, but politics seem to have changed since then. Earmarker extraordinaire Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) was bounced out of his office despite larding his district and state with federal pork.

McConnell’s own state may have changed, too. Witness the election of Rand Paul (without McConnell’s help). Paul supports the earmark ban.

McConnell has framed his opposition to the earmark ban as an argument for preserving Congress’ “discretion”—that is, its authority over the spending of federal dollars. Without earmarks, the administration will decide where the money is spent. But there’s a pretty long list of things McConnell could work for if he wants to defend Congress’ prerogatives, such as:

- Forcing the administration to be transparent about the grants it doles out.

- Limiting  or eliminating the administration’s grant-making and spending discretion.

- Withdrawing all the other massive delegations of authority that Congress has given to the executive branch.

- Reducing spending and cutting taxes so that spending discretion is where it should be: with the taxpayers who earned the money in the first place.

Earmarks are not a huge part of the federal budget, but that does not militate against ending them. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) calls them a “gateway drug to federal spending addiction,” which is a folksy way of talking about the political science of “log-rolling.” Former member of Congress Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), who has seen it first-hand, talks in this clip about how House and Senate leaders use earmarks to buy votes on legislation they want to get passed.

If earmarks go away as a tool for wheeling-and-dealing in Congress, members and senators will be less likely to sell out the country as a whole with bloated spending bills and Rube-Goldberg regulatory projects for the benefit of some local interest or campaign contributor.

I’ll be speaking next Monday at a Hill event on earmark transparency. The vote in the Senate Republican Conference is Tuesday. It’s a secret ballot, so any senator who doesn’t trumpet his or her support of the earmark ban almost certainly opposes it and supports the practice of earmarking.

Earmarkers Work to Penalize Earmark Opponents

Political gamesmanship has never seen a clearer illustration than in this CQ Politics article, “Locals Split on DeMint’s Earmark War.”

South Carolina Republican senator Jim DeMint opposes earmarks. Fellow South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham supports earmarks and regularly requests them. (See a list of all 136 of his earmark requests for FY 2010 here.) 

Senator Graham’s request for a $400,000 earmark for the Port of Charleston hasn’t been awarded—perhaps because of DeMint’s opposition to earmarks.

Refusing to go along has a price. And in the article it’s a Republican operative who sinks the first shiv, suggesting that DeMint’s failure to earmark hurts South Carolina.

“What you’re hearing [in the state] is: the ideology of the tea party and catering to that movement will come at the expense of jobs in South Carolina,” said Chris Drummond, a South Carolina GOP strategist who formerly worked for Gov. Mark Sanford.

(Think a Republican wouldn’t criticize another Republican? Think again.)

The tax money used for earmarking is paid into the federal kitty by South Carolinians, of course. Getting some of the taxes they pay returned to the state is not the benefit it appears. If their money were left with them in the first place, they would spend it as they see fit, benefitting South Carolinians and their state much more than politically directed spending.

Next, Senate appropriation subcommittee chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) exploits the tension among members of his opposite party, clinical analysis masking his glee: “ ‘In cases where you have a state where one asks for an earmark, the other opposes all earmarks, that makes it a more difficult project to fund,’ he said.”

Then comes payback time. Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) was ousted during the primary by a Tea Party/DeMint-favored candidate, so:

The office of subcommittee ranking member Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) also told the Greenville News that the port was denied funding in part because “there was no request at all from Sen. DeMint.”

The article recites a number of other viewpoints on earmarking and earmarks in South Carolina, but the highlight is the parade of assailants on DeMint. Politics ain’t patty-cake, and earmark politics are no exception.

Co-opting the Anti-Spenders

Voters who recognize the need to make major cuts to federal spending and think returning Republicans to power will accomplish this feat could be in for a big disappointment. Recent comments to the Washington Post made by former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS) make it clear that anti-spending candidates elected in November will be fighting against their own party – not just the Democrats.

From the article:

Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), now a D.C. lobbyist, warned that a robust bloc of rabble-rousers spells further Senate dysfunction. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” Lott said in an interview. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.”

Lott actually provided one of the more memorable moments in my career as a Senate staffer. The scene took place in the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at a regular meeting of “conservative” Republican senators to discuss politics and policy. The setting was several months before the 2006 fall elections in which voters sent the Republican majority packing.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who I was working for at the time, was pleading with his colleagues to make a last ditch effort to cut spending. Coburn argued, correctly, that voters were fed up with Republican profligacy. In the midst of the discussion, Trent Lott entered. Strolling about the office while chomping on snacks, Lott dismissed Coburn’s suggestion in his good-ole-boy southern style.

Instead, Lott said the Republicans needed to tell voters that putting the Democrats in charge of post-911 America would leave the country vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In other words, Lott’s solution was to scare voters into keeping the Republicans in charge.

Lott might be gone, but the current GOP leadership seems to share the same aversion to actually reforming government. They will attempt to “co-opt” candidates who come to Washington on an anti-spending platform. (See my post on Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)).

In a recent Washington Times piece, John Ellis makes a compelling case for why 2010 is not going to be a replay of 1994:

Nobody can doubt that House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are good and loyal Republicans, but they lack everything that made Mr. Gingrich the author of success in 1994. Both are passive and timid and lack the drive and energy a real leader needs. Both are primarily managers rather than public voices of their caucuses. Neither can dominate a TV screen as Mr. Gingrich could, and neither is able to capture the public’s attention by focusing issues sharply and succinctly. Mr. Boehner is a wooden personality devoid of Mr. Gingrich’s charisma, and the slogan: “Boehner for Speaker,” which is beginning to appear, is hardly inspiring. Mr. McConnell is amiable but retiring, never arresting or incisive.

Indeed, the current Republican leadership bemoans the Obama administration’s reckless big spending and deficits. But other than complain and insist that the president should “pay for” additional spending, the GOP leadership has given no evidence that it recognizes – or even believes – that we actually need a smaller government.

Instead, the GOP has trotted out timid half-measures that they think will play well to the country’s anti-spending mood, but that would actually accomplish very little.

Ron Paul, the Chamber of Commerce, and Economic Freedom

Tim Carney has a blog post at the Examiner that’s worth quoting in full:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued its 2009 congressional scorecard, and once again, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. — certainly one of the two most free-market politicians in Washington — gets the lowest score of any Republican.

Paul was one of a handful of GOP lawmakers not to win the Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise Award.” He scored only a 67%, bucking the Chamber on five votes, including:

  • Paul opposed the “Solar Technology Roadmap Act,” which boosted subsidies for unprofitable solar energy technology.
  • Paul opposed the “Travel Promotion Act,” which subsidizes the tourism industry with a new fee on international visitors.
  • Paul opposed the largest spending bill in history, Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill.

(Rep John Duncan, R-Tenn., tied Ron Paul with 67%. John McHugh, R-N.Y., scored a 40%, but he missed most of the year because he went off to the Obama administration.)

I wrote about this phenomenon last year, when the divergence was even greater between the Chamber’s agenda and the free-market agenda:

Similarly, Texas libertarian GOPer Rep. Ron Paul—the most steadfast congressional opponent of regulation, taxation, and any sort of government intervention in business—scored lower than 90% of Democrats last year on the Chamber’s scorecard.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had the most conservative voting record in 2008 according to the American Conservative Union (ACU), and was a “taxpayer hero” according to the National Taxpayer’s Union (NTU), but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says his 2008 record was less pro-business than Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton.
This year’s picture was less glaring, but it’s still more evidence that “pro-business” is not the same as “pro-freedom.” The U.S. Chamber is the former. Ron Paul, and the libertarian position, is the latter.

I suspect that on issues such as free trade agreements and immigration reform, I might be closer to the Chamber’s position than to Ron Paul’s. But to suggest that Paul is wrong to vote against business subsidies – or that DeMint was wrong to vote against Bush’s 2008 stimulus package and the $700 billion TARP bailout – certainly does illustrate how much difference there can be between “pro-business” and “pro-market.” Instead of “Spirit of Enterprise,” the Chamber should call these the “Spirit of Subsidy Awards.”

What Does the State Department Not Want Us to Know about Honduras?

Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina recently traveled to Honduras and found—no surprise—a peaceful country and broad support for the ouster of President Zelaya among members of civil society, the supreme court, political parties and others. In an op-ed in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, DeMint describes his trip in light of Washington’s continuing support of Zelaya and its condemnation of what it calls a “coup.” U.S. policy is mystifying since the ousted president’s removal from office was a rare example in Latin America of an institutional defense of democracy as envisioned by the constitution and interpreted by the Supreme Court that ruled that the president be removed. (For independent opinions on the case, see here and here.)

However, the Senator reports a legal analysis at the State Department prepared by its top lawyer that apparently has informed Washington’s policy but that has not been made public nor even released to DeMint despite his repeated requests. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the State Department should immediately release its legal report. Maybe then we (which includes much of the hemisphere) will be less mystified about what is driving Washington policy toward Honduras. Or at least we’ll have a better insight on the administration’s understanding of democracy.

Jim DeMint’s Freedom Tent

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been a leader in the fight for fiscal responsibility in Congress. He’s even led on issues that many elected officials have shied away from, such as Social Security reform and free trade. Recently he said that he would support Pat Toomey over Arlen Specter in a Republican primary, which may have prompted Specter’s party switch. DeMint was widely quoted as saying, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

It may have been feedback from that comment that caused DeMint to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on his vision of a “Big Tent” Republican party. He makes some excellent points:

But big tents need strong poles, and the strongest pole of our party – the organizing principle and the crucial alternative to the Democrats – must be freedom. The federal government is too big, takes too much of our money, and makes too many of our decisions….

We can argue about how to rein in the federal Leviathan; but we should agree that centralized government infringes on individual liberty and that problems are best solved by the people or the government closest to them.

Moderate and liberal Republicans who think a South Carolina conservative like me has too much influence are right! I don’t want to make decisions for them. That’s why I’m working to reduce Washington’s grip on our lives and devolve power to the states, communities and individuals, so that Northeastern Republicans, Western Republicans, Southern Republicans, and Midwestern Republicans can define their own brands of Republicanism. It’s the Democrats who want to impose a rigid, uniform agenda on all Americans. Freedom Republicanism is about choice – in education, health care, energy and more. It’s OK if those choices look different in South Carolina, Maine and California.

That’s a good federalist, or libertarian, or traditional American conservative vision. But is it really Jim DeMint’s vision?

DeMint says “that centralized government infringes on individual liberty and that problems are best solved by the people or the government closest to them.” And he says it’s OK if “choices look different in South Carolina, Maine and California.” But marriage is traditionally a matter for the states to decide. Some states allow first cousins to marry, others don’t.  Some states recognized interracial marriage in the early 20th century, others didn’t. And in every case the federal government accepted each state’s rules; if you had a marriage license from one of the states, the federal government considered you married. But Senator DeMint has twice voted for a constitutional amendment to overrule the states’ power to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In his op-ed, he writes, “Republicans can welcome a vigorous debate about legalized abortion or same-sex marriage; but we should be able to agree that social policies should be set through a democratic process, not by unelected judges.” That’s a reasonable argument, but the amendment that DeMint voted for would overturn state legislative decisions as well as judicial decisions.

Does Jim DeMint believe that “it’s OK if choices [about marriage] look different in South Carolina, Maine, [Vermont, New Hampshire], and California”? If so, he should renounce his support for the anti-federalist federal marriage amendment. If not, then it seems that he opposes the Democrats’ attempts to “impose a rigid, uniform agenda on all Americans …  in education, health care, energy and more,” but he has no problem with Republicans imposing their own “rigid, uniform agenda on all Americans” from South Carolina to Vermont.

It might be noted that Senator DeMint also supported the federal attempt to overturn Florida court decisions regarding Terri Schiavo, but we can hope all Republicans have learned their lesson on that bit of mass hysteria.