As the final hours of the 109th Congress wind down, a handful of Senate conservatives have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the final act of the Republican Congressional majority will not be the passage of a bunch of pork-laden spending bills.
Led by Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, these fiscal conservatives are determined to heed what they consider one of the major lessons of the 2006 midterm elections: Americans don’t appreciate politicians who are careless with the people’s money.
Unfortunately, that lesson appears to be lost on many in Congress.
Indeed, powerful Republican appropriators remained unrepentant. After the elections they made their desire to pass the remaining appropriations bills clear. Those remaining spending bills were to serve as vehicles for the attachment of billions of dollars worth of congressional earmarks for members to deliver to their home districts just in time for Christmas. The cavalier nature in which congressional big spenders have doled out the cash promised to make this Christmas, like so many in the past, a merry one for pork-hungry lawmakers.
But this will not come to pass. DeMint, Coburn and others have decided to turn the tables and deliver their own Christmas present to the American taxpayer.
By using every parliamentary option available to them, Senate conservatives stared down members of their own party over this issue and successfully garnered $7 billion worth of savings. Both DeMint and Coburn played watchdog on the floor of the Senate by objecting to motions designed to pass the big spending bills and by filing their own list of amendments designed slow down the process enough to ensure the billions in savings. At times, the debate grew heated.
On Monday, Senators DeMint, Coburn and James Inhofe sent a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist in which they boldly handled a political hot potato: funding for the military. The Military Construction, Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill was headed to a conference report with the House of Representatives, and the Senate conservatives were certain mischief would be done.
So often in the past, a similar spending bill at the end of a congressional session has been used by congressional big spenders as a vehicle to attach all the remaining spending bills and pork projects to. That’s because congressional rules require that bill be sent back to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote, leaving no way for members to challenge the thousands of earmarks that were added.
Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and a contributing columnist to Townhall.com
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