Mike Needham
Conservative lawmakers must learn how to play small ball.

What do I mean by that? Simply put, when the House majority and Senate minority swing for the fence, their conservative stripes are on display. Look no further than the Republican's bold plan to reform and save Medicare and you to realize they understand their mission. Whether they're talking about repeal of Obamacare, reining in job-destroying regulation or overhauling our tax code to create jobs, it’s clear they get it on the big issues.

However, when called upon to play small ball, many seem to leave their conservative credentials on the bench. On the issues that don't headline the cable news or Drudge, the influence of big-government special interests are omnipresent, pushing for hand outs, and carve outs. And all too often, that influence wins over some otherwise solidly conservative Members of Congress.

Take last week’s House vote to restore $320 million of taxpayer money to an ineffective grant program. According to The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis (CDA), firefighter safety grants had “no impact on fire casualties.” The analysis was robust, looking at more than 10,000 fire departments between 1999 and 2006.

Simply put, the grants, which were used for purchasing firefighting equipment including vehicles and exercise equipment, have been proven ineffective at reducing the number of casualties. The program even awarded grants – for some reason – to ACORN, the organization notorious for voter fraud.

Wisely, H.R.2017, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, reduced funding for the program. But despite the program’s ineffectiveness, 333 Representatives supported an amendment by Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-OH) to restore $320 million to the program. The wasteful amendment had the support of 147 Republicans, including some otherwise solid conservatives.

With many in Congress talking about cutting TRILLIONS of dollars, 3 out of 4 Representatives couldn’t accept cutting MILLIONS. This sends a disturbing message, especially considering $320 million is just 0.002 % of our national debt. This is the very essence of small ball, and only 87 lawmakers got it right.

If Congress can’t even identify wasteful programs such as this to cut, how do we expect to slash our deficit? Neglecting any penny right now is not acceptable. How will Congress tackle the difficult challenges like entitlements and energy subsidies?

But the small ball problem is about more than wasting money on ineffective programs, it’s about understanding the proper role of the federal government. Spending on firefighter grants is not only wasteful, but it also blurs (or completely ignores) the distinction made between federal and state governments.

Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.