“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” the familiar saying goes, but barely a week after losing their congressional majority after 12 years in power, Capitol Hill Republicans clearly learned nothing. That much is obvious in Sen. Trent Lott’s return to the GOP Senate leadership and the way in which the lame duck majority is moving to approve hundreds more secret earmarks.
The Lott decision is simply dazzling in its willful rejection of the obvious. Since losing the Senate majority leader post after an imprudent remark about Strom Thurmond, the Old Bull from Mississippi devoted himself to packing as much pork as possible into spending bills. Most notable of these anonymous earmarks was the Railroad to Nowhere, a $700 million boondoggle to move a Mississippi coastal railroad a couple miles inland even though taxpayers had just paid $300 million repairing the line’s Hurricane Katrina damage.
When challenged by the increasingly influential and visible Porkbusters.org Internet watchdog coalition, Lott groused that he was “getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina.”
A major factor in the GOP’s loss of its majorities in both chambers of Congress was nationwide voter disgust with the billions of tax dollars being wasted on anonymous earmarks, exemplified in the activities of now-jailed super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Lott has been among the most vocal opponents of earmark reform. So now the GOP minority gives him the second most powerful job in the Republican caucus?
As if restoring a pork baron like Lott to power weren’t enough, the lame duck GOP majority seems hell-bent to pass as many more earmarks as possible before January. The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl estimates there are nearly 10,000 earmarks in the 11 appropriations bills remaining to be passed. Here is an opportunity to demonstrate that the GOP got the message on Election Day by announcing that all such earmarks will be removed. Instead, Republicans can’t seem to wait to get their hands on the moolah.
On the House side, the GOP just blew its one remaining chance to do something concrete to indicate they got the voters’ message. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., sought the House minority leader and whip positions, respectively. Both are articulate, energetic reformers. Astonishingly, the House GOP caucus opted instead to keep part or all the leadership team that bungled the 2006 campaign. The party deserves its coming years in the political wilderness.
The contrast between the pork-besotted GOP and Democrats couldn’t be more vivid. The selection of Maryland’s Rep. Steny Hoyer as House majority leader was a wise decision. The consensus-building Hoyer will give incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi many reasons in the months ahead to be glad her choice was rejected.