The French journalist and novelist Alphonse Karr is credited with saying, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." Though Karr lived in the 19th century, his insight could well apply to the United States Congress in the 20th and 21st centuries, especially when it comes to spending, the last truly bipartisan and unchanging indulgence of both parties.
Following the election that will put them in the majority come January, Democratic leaders announced that they had taken the pledge. Things would be different, they said. Democrats would be far more ethical than Republicans. In his response to President Bush's radio address last Saturday, soon-to-be House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said, "Šwe will - and we must - change the way things are done in Washington." If that sort of talk sounds familiar, it should. It is what Republicans said prior to, and after, the 1994 election.
It all sounds so noble, even righteous, but the results are the same: Members of Congress don't change Washington; Washington changes them.
Even before the Democrats become the majority party in Congress, there are signs that little of importance will change. New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick recently wrote a front-page story in which he quotes Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) on "earmark reform." Inouye said, "I don't see any monumental changes." Inouye will take the gavel from the current chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). The two have what Kirkpatrick calls an "unusual bipartisan camaraderie while divvying up projects."
They are not alone. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) indicates she, too, will jump on the gravy train because "what is good for the goose is good for the gander." Nice. So much for Democrats' commitment to reform. Apparently, the only "reform" will be to use their majority status to funnel more of our tax dollars to the pet projects of Democrats.
Democratic leaders have promised to require that earmarks bear the name of the member who proposes them. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been tireless in his, so far, futile attempts to reform the earmark system, told the Times, "Transparency would be enough if we had any shame, if you were embarrassed to get an earmark for the National Wild Turkey Federation." He was referring to a $234,000 earmark in a recent agricultural spending bill. But, said Flake, "Republicans and Democrats have shown that is no longer any embarrassment."