Jeff Flake's Earmark Battle Keeps On Keepin' On

The scariest thing Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) heard over the Congressional recess was Hillary Clinton saying America needs a “Commander-in-Chief” of the economy. At a time when out-of-control government spending is the norm, Clinton’s statement should scare us all. 

For the past 8 years, Flake has lead an effort to control earmarks and pork-barrel spending, an initiative that hasn’t endeared him to the leaders of both parties. Earlier this month, the House and Senate both voted overwhelmingly against earmark moratoriums. But Flake has survived this kind of defeat before, and vows to not slow down his fight.

After losing a run for a seat on the House Appropriations Committee last year, Flake re-focused his efforts on earmark reform in several different budget issues. He said earmarking simply takes too much time.

Flake pointed to Homeland Security legislation earmarking as an enormous problem, saying that “no member of Congress will ever say any installation in their district is not important enough for a terrorist attack.” Every legislator in America can find reason to slot earmarks for expensive additions to safety precautions in their state whether or not they actually accomplish any increase in public safety.

Later this year, another emergency supplemental spending bill for Iraq will hit the floor and it will be full of earmarks. Flake said the bill’s fate will depend on “how firm a backbone the President has.” President Bush, who delivered several vetoes last year, would maintain enough Republican support to sustain another one, based on numbers then.

Flake said Sen. John McCain has continually stood by the argument that Republicans lost in 2006 because of spending and corruption — not the war in Iraq.

“[McCain] has his finger on the pulse…,” said Flake, who has campaigned with McCain, and added that the “biggest applause lines anywhere” are always about earmarks and spending.

Because both Republicans and Democrats refuse to relinquish earmarks, lobbyists have begun to cash in on the practice. Contemporary earmark practices, said Flake, include lobbyists who package earmarks to secure funds for their own interests.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), no stranger to earmarks himself, has pledged to abstain from the practice this year because “there’s a lobbyist behind every earmark, packaged in a way to benefit them,” according to Flake.

Flake said that there “is a place for earmarks” if the right authorization and appropriation is affirmed but these cases would be a far cry from the 36,000 earmarks tagged in 2007.

The tidal wave of wasteful spending has caused economic distress as well, though Flake said “recessions serve a useful purpose.” He said such events create a “reallocation of capital that may have been skewed in the past,” advocating that the cyclical economic pattern of the market deals with things well.

Aside from earmarking, Flake argued that the farm bill — weighted as always with huge subsidies — was one of the most important fiscal issues facing America right now. He said “we can’t have real free trade…with such a bloated farm bill” that will “run into our international trade…”

As for the GOP in 2008, Flake admitted to a “tough election season” in which Republicans will hold seats only if they converge together on a message. Republicans, he said, have relied lately on “levers of power we don’t even have anymore” and the protection has worn thin. In order to “get donors energized”, the conservative message of free market principles must prevail.