When Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill recently went to war over the budget, press coverage suggested that pork-barrel earmark spending is still a bipartisan problem, that after months of self-righteous rhetoric about fiscal discipline, both parties remain equal-opportunity earmarkers.
It's not true. A new analysis by a group of federal-spending watchdogs shows a striking imbalance between the parties when it comes to earmark requests. Democrats remain raging spenders, while Republicans have made enormous strides in cleaning up their act. In the Senate, the GOP made only one-third as many earmark requests as Democrats for the still-unpassed 2011 budget, and in the House, Republicans have nearly given up earmarking altogether -- while Democrats roll on.
The watchdog groups -- Taxpayers for Common Sense, WashingtonWatch.com and Taxpayers Against Earmarks -- counted total earmark requests in the 2011 budget. Lawmakers made those requests earlier this year, but Democratic leaders, afraid that their party's spending priorities might cost them at the polls, decided not to pass a budget before the Nov. 2 elections. In early December, they distilled those earmark requests -- included many, threw some out, combined others -- into the omnibus bill they hoped to pass before adjourning for Christmas. Even though united Republican opposition stopped the bill, looking back at all the original earmark requests says a lot about the spending inclinations of both parties.
In the 2011 House budget, the groups found that House Democrats requested 18,189 earmarks, which would cost the taxpayers a total of $51.7 billion, while House Republicans requested just 241 earmarks, for a total of $1 billion.
Where did those GOP earmark requests come from? Just four Republican lawmakers: South Carolina Rep. Henry Brown, who did not run for re-election this year; Louisiana Rep. Joseph Cao, who lost his bid for re-election; maverick Texas Rep. Ron Paul; and spending king Rep. Don Young of Alaska. The other Republican members of the House -- 174 of them -- requested a total of zero earmarks.
Talk to Republicans, and they'll say it would be nice if there were no earmark requests at all, but party leaders can't control everyone. "Brown's retiring, Cao's defeated, Paul is Paul, and Young is Young," one GOP aide shrugs. Still, the bottom line is that the House GOP's nearly perfect renunciation of earmarks is striking. "For a voluntary moratorium, it was impressive that there were only four scofflaws," says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.