Saturday, January 10, 2009

GOP Not Serious About Earmarks; Dems Not Serious About Reform

Congress is back !
While some things stay the same, other things change … and not for the better.

Oh, sure there are plenty of new faces --- each with unbridled optimism and good intentions. Alas, their first reaction must be … did you guys run last November ?
For those voters that thought that change would be in order, must now be seriously disappointed. In Minnesota, all the House incumbents were re-elected … but what changes will really happen ?

In the House on Republican side, Minnesota has returned John Kline and Michele Bachmann.
Kline’s major theme of his re-election was Stop the Pork while Bachmann is also on a pork-free diet. So, did the Republicans heed their campaign motto ? NO.
Pork can be best controlled through the Appropriations Committee which directs all federal discretionary spending. I have never heard Kline or Bachmann openly campaign for assignment to this committee. With Democrats increasing their overall numbers in the House, the Appropriations Committee ratio changed from 37-29 in the 110th Congress to 37-23 in the 111th, leaving Republicans with only two seats to fill after accounting for retirements and election losses. Of course, they could have re-assigned existing members including dishonored Jerry Lewis (R-CA) but that change is rarely made. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who is an outspoken critic of wasteful government spending openly campaigned for a seat last session and for this new session. IF the Republicans wanted to stop the pork, they would have made sure that Flake got that assignment. Alas, the new members will be Tom Cole (R-OK) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH). Word is that Cole was promised the assignment in exchange for stepping down as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (no Blagojevich buy-out here).
Minnesota’s newly elected Erik Paulsen (MN-06) has been assigned to the House Financial Services Committee where Bachmann has served.
So, on the Republican side, Minnesota has lost its voice in the powerful Ways and Means Committee with the retirement of Jim Ramstad. Republicans filled six slots - Charles Boustany Jr. (LA); Ginny Brown-Waite (FL); Geoff Davis (KY); Dean Heller (NV); Dave Reichert (WA); and Peter Roskam (IL).
Voters were sold a “pig in the poke” with Kline and Bachmann’s ranting … they have started off this session exhibiting their failures to motivate their colleagues … all the while the grandstanding continues for voter’s obfuscation. Kline issues press releases while Bachmann editorializes about limestone sidewalks, skateboard parks and bike lanes. No doubt we will hear about these “earmarks” thoughout the session, yet they have failed to take the necessary action by making real change in committee assignments.
The GOP is playing us for suckers again.

And the Democrats are not starting out well either.
In the House, the Rules have been changed. Term limits on committee chairs have been changed while the “Pay-go” rules which required spending proposals to be balanced with revenue or cuts, have been gutted.

While Kline and Bachmann are pseudo-deficit spending and "anti-pork-barrel" politicians, Minnesotans in the First District remember a true fiscal conservative – Tim Penny. When Penny was in the House, he formed the Democratic Budget Group and when his party failed to reduce the federal deficit, he did not seek re-election. Penny saw the hypocrisy and excessive partisanship first hand. He wrote a book entitled Common Cents: A Retiring Six-Term Congressman Reveals How Congress Really Works--And What We Must Do to Fix it which he denounces the rules that make chairmen too powerful. Penny was right then and the Republicans changed those rules under the guise of the "Contract With America”. After the lessons of Tom Delay, Duke Cunnningham, John Doolittle, Jerry Lewis, and Rick Renzi just to name a few dishonored Republicans, the Democrats are reverting to the old rules just when Charlie Rangel (D-NY) ethics problems are being investigated. Rangel chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. It was a good move when Henry Waxman (D-CA) took over for John Dingell (D-MI) as chairman of the influential Committee on Energy and Commerce. Failure to allow younger members like Tim Walz (D-MN-01) and Keith Ellison (D-MN-05) to assume responsibilities opposes the opportunities for change.

Walz should be angered by the relaxing of Pay-go rules as his votes last session clearly embraced that philosophy, and was a major theme in his election campaigns.

Somehow, I suspect that Penny, who must still be smarting over the over half a million in federal funds that was slipped into the 1991 budget at the last moment to preserve and enshrine Lawrence Welk's boyhood home in Strasburg, N D (pop. 623), must see that nothing has changed has changed in over a decade since he left Congress.

{NOTE : on the Senate side, the major committees that will impact spending include : Appropriations Committee - Minnesota does not currently have a member and the Democrats have a four seat advantage. On the Senate Budge Committee, Minnesota does not currently have a member and the Democrats have a three seat advantage. Franken may be in-line for a seat on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee where the Democrats have a one seat advantage. The Coleman legal challenge is impacting Minnesotans from having input on shaping our fiscal future.}

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