Robert Bluey

Without such a pledge, Bonner’s recent Johnny-come-lately tough talk on earmarks would continue to stand in stark contrast to both his record and his past rhetoric. Of course, that didn’t stop some members of the Republican leadership team from trying to spin this as a victory for earmark reformers.

“Jo Bonner was chosen because he symbolizes the changing perspective in the House Republican ranks on the role of earmarks, and the emerging consensus among Republicans on the need to fundamentally change Washington’s broken spending process,” said Minority Leader John Boehner. Though he personally has never sought an earmark, Boehner is struggling to convince many of his GOP colleagues to kick the habit.

Flake demonstrated his commitment to spending reform by taking tough votes year after year. In passing him over, it’s obvious that the Steering Committee calculated Bonner’s convenient change in rhetoric would be enough to pacify taxpayers. If the Steering Committee wasn’t ready for Flake, there was an obvious next-best choice available: Musgrave. Conservatives admire her ongoing commitment to reform. They find it hard to swallow the Steering Committee’s bypassing two “tried and true” fiscal hawks in favor of the much more suspect Bonner.

To make matters worse, Boehner promised to support Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) for the Appropriations Committee in January when at least six seats will be vacant due to retirements. Cole was considered a favorite for the vacancy up until last week when he withdrew from consideration, leaving Reps. Henry Brown (S.C.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Bonner, Flake and Musgrave.

Boehner’s decision to embrace Cole yet remain silent about the other candidates perplexed earmark opponents. With six vacancies on Appropriations next year, there is hope that a committed earmark warrior like Flake stands a chance to make a difference where it counts.

Conservatives must take this opportunity seriously. Boehner should go on the record and extend to Flake and Musgrave the same promise of support he gave to Cole. That would certainly send a strong message that the days are numbered for the congressional favor factory. It might even undo some of the damage caused by Bonner’s appointment.

Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com