The House Votes Down an Earmark

By Robert D. Novak
Monday, July 16, 2007

As bipartisan majorities overwhelmed all attempts to eliminate pork-barrel earmarks during a recent House session, one effort actually succeeded -- comfortably, though unnoticed by the public. The reason House members voted to deprive a colleague of pork for his district is the identity of that colleague: Rep. Patrick McHenry, a second-term Republican from Cherryville, in the western Piedmont of North Carolina, who at 31 is the youngest member of the House.

McHenry's $129,000 earmark would have promoted tourism in economically distressed Mitchell County. The new Democratic majority's leadership, which routinely supports earmarks, cracked the whip against this one, apparently in the spirit of political revenge. A conservative firebrand, McHenry had immobilized the House and humiliated the Democrats by leading GOP parliamentary maneuvers to force transparency regarding earmarks, previously hidden by both parties.

But the House showed in the last week of June that the celebrated transparency is a sham. Each newly transparent earmark brought to a floor vote survived by a huge margin. In traditional congressional logrolling, one earmarker protects another. There is no political risk because such votes are publicly ignored. Members insisting on their pork reflect bipartisan congressional nonchalance about ballooning spending. Demonstrating the cynicism of their pretensions toward earmark reform, Democrats also got even with the bumptious McHenry.

While considering the interior appropriations bill, the House kept 11 egregious earmarks alive. Rep. John Murtha, king of Democratic earmarkers, kept $1.2 million for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission in Hollidaysburg (by a 343 to 86 vote), and $150,000 for W.A. Young & Sons Foundry in Greene County (328 to 104). The House voted 323 to 104 to retain $140,000 for the Wetzel County, W.Va., courthouse sponsored by Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan, whose earmarks have provoked an FBI investigation.

Moving on to financial services appropriations, the House voted 335 to 87 to continue Murtha's raid on the Treasury: $231,000 for the Grace Johnstown (Pa.) Area Regional Industries Incubator. By 325 to 101, the members refused to remove a $231,000 Mollohan earmark for West Virginia University Research Corp. to renovate a "small business incubator." As usual, dauntless Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona led the way in targeting colleagues' earmarks. He did not exempt Republicans -- including 15-term California Rep. Jerry Lewis, ranking minority member of the Appropriations Committee, whose past earmarking has raised ethical questions.

Flake opposed Lewis's $500,000 earmark for the Barracks Row Main Street project in Southeast Washington. Flake noted on the House floor that millions in federal funds have flowed into that neighborhood since 1999, including a $750,000 earmark last year. "I certainly hope," said Flake, "that we are not approving a redevelopment earmark today to redevelop last year's redevelopment earmark." Last year, such comments led Republican leaders to purge Flake from the Judiciary Committee. A smiling, sarcastic Lewis asked Flake: "Have you ever attended the Silent March that takes place on Friday evenings at the Marine barracks [on Barracks Row]?" "I have not," Flake replied. "You have not. I would suggest to the gentleman that probably one of the most important things that a member of Congress should do is to go to the Marine barracks." Lewis's earmark was retained, 361 to 60.

That day, I asked Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Flake's fellow Republican reformer, whether he was discouraged. "Oh, no," he said. "There are three of us now [including second-term Republican Rep. John Campbell of California], and now we only get beat 3-to-1." Little did Hensarling know that the House was about to eliminate one earmark.

Flake's earmark list included McHenry's development grant, which he said "is simply not a good use of federal dollars." Flake had privately reassured McHenry that his earmark was certain to be saved by the pork-hungry House. "Don't be too sure," McHenry replied. Indeed, with Democratic leaders eager to punish him, McHenry's earmark was eliminated, 249 to 174.

An embarrassed McHenry told me that this might well be his last earmark. That does signal a little progress, unintentionally resulting from hypocritical pretensions of reform by the new Democratic majority.

© 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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