Liberals practice ``K Street liberalism'' with an easy conscience because they believe government should do as much as possible for as many interests as possible. But ``K Street conservatism'' compounds unseemliness with hypocrisy. Until the Bush administration, with its incontinent spending, unleashed an especially conscienceless Republican control of both political branches, conservatives pretended to believe in limited government. The last five years, during which the number of registered lobbyists more than doubled, have proved that, for some Republicans, conservative virtue was merely the absence of opportunity for vice.
The way to reduce rent-seeking is to reduce the government's role in the allocation of wealth and opportunity. People serious about reducing the role of money in politics should be serious about reducing the role of politics in distributing money. But those most eager to do the former -- liberals, generally -- are the least eager to do the latter.
A surgical reform would be congressional term limits, which would end careerism, thereby changing the incentives for entering politics and for becoming, when in office, an enabler of rent-seekers in exchange for their help in retaining office forever. The movement for limits -- a Madisonian reform to alter the dynamic of interestedness that inevitably animates politics -- was surging until four months after Republicans took control of the House. In May 1995 the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that congressional terms could not be limited by states' statutes. Hence a constitutional amendment is necessary. Hence Congress must initiate limits on itself. That will never happen.
Although bribery already is a crime and lobbying is constitutionally protected (the First Amendment right ``to petition the government for a redress of grievances'') a few institutional reforms milder than term limits might be useful. But none will be more than marginally important, absent the philosophical renewal of conservatism. To which end, who should Republicans elect?
Roy Blunt of Missouri, the man who was selected, not elected, to replace DeLay, is a champion of earmarks as a form of constituent service. If, as one member says, ``the problem is not just DeLay but 'DeLay, Inc.,''' Blunt is not the solution. So far -- the field may expand -- the choice for majority leader is between Blunt and John Boehner of Ohio. A salient fact: In 15 years in the House, Boehner has never put an earmark in an appropriations bill.