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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Historic Senate Earmarks Battle Updated on Porkbusters; Coburn Example Shows True Political Courage, Value of Term Limits

It's been an historic week in the U.S. Senate as Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, used an obscure parliamentary move dubbed the "clay pigeon" amendment to force votes on nearly two dozen earmarks slipped into the emergency appropriations bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

There have been some victories and more defeats, but Coburn has succeeded in putting before the American people as no politician has before him in the modern era the magnitude and fundamental dishonesty inherent in so much of federal spending.

By standing up by himself in the beginning and then persevering through the insults, counter-attacks and tirades of the old bulls of the Senate, Coburn has given the country a vivid demonstration of genuine political courage. One result has been that many more Members of the Senate have begun to vote with him instead of against him.

But there is another aspect of Coburn's demonstration that bears comment and that is how he has also provided a demonstration of the tremendously salutary effects of term limits. As he frequently notes, he isn't worried about getting re-elected, so he has in a sense operationally term-limited himself.

The present corrupt political culture on Capitol Hill exemplifies the career politics that have dominated the federal government since the New Deal, which incidentally marked the major turning point downward in the percentage of freshmen in each succeeding Congress.

Without term limits - either voluntary, as functionally existed from the founding through WWI or mandatory by constitutional amendment - career politicians of all partisan stripes inevitably focus on getting re-elected. And they rig the campaign rules to favor themselves, even as they also rig the processes of government to provide additional advantages for incumbents with measures like earmarks.

This is not a partisan phenomenon. When the Democrats dominated Congress for 40 years, the same process at work now was evident then in a hundred ways. Now that the GOP has been in control for 12 years, many of its leaders in Congress have sucumbed to the temptations of incumbent protection.

It is not coincidental that as Coburn was laboring in the Senate, over in the House the GOP leadership was shepherding through a package of so-called lobbying reforms in response to the abuses revealed by the Jack Abramoff scandal.

There are some valuable provisions in the House lobbying reform - particularly those requiring greater disclosure of Members seeking earmarks - but for the most part, the legislation simply perpetuates the complicated system of rules and regulations that often seem designed to encourage creative interpretation.

This past week could prove to have been the beginning of the end for the politics of corruption that has been Washington for so long. Truth Laid Bare's Porkbuster page has a comprehensive rundown of the votes on Coburn's various amendments. Go here for the information, take names and remember them come November.

UPDATE: Senate Leaders Pack Conferees With Porkers

And now, as if to drive home my point about the depth of corruption in the political culture of Washington, Senate leaders have appointed conferees to negotiate with the House on the emergency spending bill.

The list of Senate conferees reads like a Porkers Hall of Fame roll call:

THE PRESIDING OFFICER: UNDER THE PREVIOUS ORDER, THE CHAIR APPOINTS THE FOLLOWING AS CONFEREES ON THE PART OF THE SENATE.

THE CLERK: SENATORS COCHRAN, STEVENS, SPECTER, DOMENICI, BOND, McCONNELL, BURNS, SHELBY, GREGG, BENNETT, CRAIG, HUTCHISON, DeWINE, BROWNBACK, ALLARD, BYRD, INOUYE, LEAHY, HARKIN, MIKULSKI, REID, KOHL, MURRAY, DORGAN, FEINSTEIN, DURBIN, JOHNSON, AND LANDRIEU.

It is simply astounding that Cochran, Stevens, Byrd and Harkin are conferees, as they epitomize the Old Bulls who thrive on pork barrel. Brownback is the only identifiable "movement conservative" in the whole bunch.

And if the Senate really did operate on the basis of mutual respect and cordiality, why isn't Coburn on this list?

UPDATE II: Hastert Says Senate Bill is DOA

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has just issued this statement:

"As it's currently drafted, the Senate's $109 billion emergency spending bill is dead on arrival in the House. President Bush requested $92 billion for the War on Terror and some hurricane spending. The House used fiscal restraint, but now the Senate wants to come to the table with a tab that's $17 billion over budget. The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers."