Pork-barrel earmarks were an important factor in the loss of the GOP majority last November. Years of irresponsible earmarks, slipped into bills behind closed doors without public debate or scrutiny, eroded Republicans' reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility and trustworthy custodians of taxpayer funds.
I've never made a secret of my distaste for worthless pork. Just a few months after being elected as majority leader last year, we enacted comprehensive reforms that brought the earmark process out into broad daylight. All taxpayer-funded earmarks had to be publicly disclosed and subject to challenge and debate. If you sponsor a project, we argued, you ought to be willing to put your name on it and defend it -- and if not, you shouldn't ask taxpayers to pay for it. These reforms were the right thing to do -- and they still are.The Democratic majority came to power in January promising to do a better job on earmarks. They appeared to preserve our reforms and even take them a bit further. I commended Democrats publicly for this action.
Unfortunately, the leadership reversed course. Desperate to advance their agenda, they began trading earmarks for votes, dangling taxpayer-funded goodies in front of wavering members to win their support for leadership priorities. The Democrats' retreat began quietly, with passage of a "continuing resolution" in February that contained hidden earmarks. It steadily became more blatant. A troop funding bill was loaded with pork-barrel spending for things like spinach and peanuts -- which one top Democrat publicly conceded was only in the bill to buy votes. Members were denied the ability to challenge individual earmarks on the House floor, stepping back from our original reforms and leaving members with no way to force a floor debate and vote on any earmark, even if it violated the rules or was particularly egregious.
By June, the leadership's dismal retreat culminated in a plan to pass appropriations bills loaded with slush funds for secret earmarks. The plan was met with a torrent of public criticism from voices across the political spectrum, and rightly so. House Republicans rallied to defeat the "secret earmarks" plan. It was a spirited fight: Everyone pitched in, and we fought with an energy found only in legislators who believe in their cause. It was a sign of a Republican Party beginning to return to its roots, breaking with past errors, and reconnecting with its principles. We forced Democrats to abandon their ill-conceived plan.