House Leadership Race: Restoring the Spirit of 1994

Arizona Republican John Shadegg, a dark horse candidate for House Majority Leader, has an op-ed in today’s OpinionJournal arguing, as many of us have, that the GOP needs to govern under the principles that got them elected in the first place, those of the 1994 Contract with America.

Republicans promised the American people two things in 1994. First, we promised to rein in the size and scope of the federal government. Second, we promised to clean up Washington. In recent years, we have fallen short on both counts. Total federal spending has grown by 33% since 1995, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Worse, we have permitted some of the same backroom practices that flourished in the old Democrat-controlled House. Powerful members of Congress are able to insert provisions giving away millions–even tens of millions–of dollars in the dead of night. The recent scandals involving Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff have highlighted the problem, but this is not just a case of a few bad apples. The system itself needs structural reforms.This has been clear for some time. I did not discover reform as an issue–like Saul on the road to Damascus–when I entered the majority leader race. It has been an integral part of my record, not at one time a decade ago, but constantly, year in and year out since 1994. Yesterday John Boehner wrote on this page about a proposal to reform the earmark process offered by Rep. Jeff Flake. While Mr. Boehner is suddenly talking about this idea, I was one of the first co-sponsors when it was introduced last spring.

We need sunshine in the earmark process, and an end to secret, backroom deals. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, the total number of earmarks in 2005 was nearly 14,000–compared with only 1,439 in 1995. Earmarked money is often spent without the oversight and consideration in the regular appropriations process, so waste, abuse or even fraud is more likely. Congress should base decisions on what is good for America, not what is good for the lobbyist friends of a few.

It should be noted that Boehner’s record on earmarks is actually quite good. Nonetheless, both Boehner and Blunt, especially the latter, have unfortunate ties with the K-Street Project. Whether Shadegg would, too, were he in a position of greater prominence is hard to say.

The good news is that this leadership race is forcing the three candidates to one-up each other one how much they would clean up the House. That’s a very good thing. The fact that they dirtied the place up so much after only a few years in power? Not so much.
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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.