April 05, 2004

A bill full of pork

Robert Novak on conservative outrage at the recently passed "highway" bill:

Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte, N.C., a conservative star of the famous Republican congressional class of 1994, has just about had it with the way the world works on Capitol Hill. "It makes you not want to be here. It just makes you want to leave," she told me Friday morning before the House passed the "highway" bill by a veto-proof margin of 357 to 65. What infuriates her is the money provided by this bill that does not have a thing to do with highways.

Myrick went before the closed-door House Republican Conference last week to spell out this outrage. The response was icy silence.

(...)

The highway bill marks the absolute termination of the Gingrich Revolution ushered in by the 1994 Republican sweep. In the face of President Bush's repeated veto threats, Republicans are determined to pass a bill filled with earmarked spending for individual members of Congress. The 1982 highway bill contained only 10 earmarks. The 1991 bill, the last highway bill passed under Democratic leadership, contained 538 such projects. But the addiction for pork has grown so large that the current bill contains at least 3,193 earmarks.

(...)

Only 58 Republicans (and six Democrats) joined Myrick in voting no Friday. She is not opposed to spending money for roads, within reason. It's the non-highway money that bothers her. "Why are we paying for all of this stuff?" Myrick asked me (using a more vivid word than "stuff"). "It's just the way you get along here."

That so serious a conservative as Sue Myrick feels she would like to quit shows how much the climate has changed on Capitol Hill since she and other bright-eyed new Republican House members were sent there by the 1994 election.

I wrote 10 years ago that Republicans, taking control for the first time in 40 years, faced a test. Metaphorically, would they close the executive washroom or just change the locks? It was almost immediately evident that they would take the latter course. Now, it's becoming clear the erstwhile Republican reformers are also super-sizing what they once condemned.