McCain: The anti-pork candidate

While conservatives have many legitimate disagreements about McCain, I think one thing most of us can agree on is that when it comes to pork spending, McCain – though not perfect – truly is a “maverick” even within his own party which, in spite of its rhetoric decrying the practice of budget-busting earmarks, sees many in the House and Senate happily partaking in the process. Of this, Robert Novak writes:

WASHINGTON — The congressional Republican establishment’s charade, pretending to crack down on spending earmarks while actually preserving their uncontrolled addiction to pork, faces embarrassment this week when the Democratic-designed budget is brought to the Senate floor. The party’s presidential nominee-presumptive, Sen. John McCain, is an uncompromising pork buster with no use for the evasions by Republican addicts on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a first-term reform Republican from South Carolina, will propose a no-loopholes one-year moratorium on earmarks as a budget amendment. McCain has announced his support for the DeMint amendment and will co-sponsor it. DeMint wants to coordinate McCain’s visits from the campaign trail to the Senate floor so the candidate can be there to speak for and vote for the moratorium.

The irony could hardly be greater. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, an ardent earmarker, is smart enough politically to realize how unpopular the practice is with the Republican base. Consequently, McConnell combines anti-earmark rhetoric with evasive tactics to save pork. But McCain, surely not the presidential candidate that McConnell wanted, is leading his party with a pledge to veto any bill containing earmarks. McConnell is running for re-election from Kentucky bragging about the pork he has brought the state.

McConnell has appointed a “task force” of five Republican senators to study earmarks, headed by the universally respected Richard Lugar of Indiana. But Lugar never has shown much interest in the subject. The dominant member is Thad Cochran of Mississippi, ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee and the Senate’s reigning king of pork. Cochran, who not long ago called McCain unfit to be president, secured $774 million in earmarks this year. Add earmarks of three other task-force members — Lugar, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Mike Crapo of Idaho — and the task force accounts for more than $1.1 billion in pork.

The fifth task-force member is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, DeMint’s partner in pork-fighting and McCain’s supporter for the presidential nomination. How could Cochran and Coburn agree on earmarks? The answer is that they cannot agree. “Everyone knows,” a Senate reformer told me, “Cochran will never allow his right to earmark to be diminished.” Since McConnell insists on “consensus” without a majority or minority report, all that will come out of the task force is a call for “transparency.”

Lawyer-like, Republican leaders are demanding the definition of an earmark. They could get a good idea by looking at just a sample of current earmarks secured by task force members. Cochran: $475,000 for beaver management in Mississippi. Lugar: $240,000 to rehabilitate the Alhambra Theater in Evansville, Ind. Isakson: $300,000 for Old Fort Jackson in Savannah, Ga. Crapo: $250,000 for the Idaho sage grouse.

Read the whole thing.

Jon Henke notes in response:

Perhaps we should start counting earmarks as campaign contributions. That is, in effect, exactly what they are: an Incumbent Slush Fund.

This is one of many issues where McCain can neutralize Obama, should the O-man become the Dem nominee. Want years of experience on earmark reform? McCain was serving in the Senate and working against pork before State Senator Barack Obama was even a gleam in the eye of his kingmaker, Illinois Senate president Emil Jones, Jr., and long before Obama joined Senator Tom Coburn in successfully pushing the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.

While McCain, along with Senators Coburn and DeMint, have been leaders in the US Congress when it comes to combating wasteful spending, all too many other GOP Representatives and Senators have not been. This is shameful. To find out how your Congressional reps are doing when it comes to holding the line against pork spending, go here and here. If you’re unhappy with what you see, email them and let them know what you think. The only way to keep our elected officials accountable is to let them know we’re paying attention.

Update: How convenient: Obama, Clinton join McCain vs. earmarks (via Memeo)

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