Political Animal


May 28, 2011 8:30 AM When the new way of doing business looks like the old

By Steve Benen

For the better part of two years, the Republican base made it clear it prefers a certain kind of far-right candidate. These activists demanded “insurgents” and “outsiders,” who have no use for the entrenched Washington establishment and its corrupt power structure. After the midterms, we’d see a new way of doing business.

Or not.

Hard-charging Republicans who rallied voters last year with cries of “Stop the spending, ban the earmarks” are quietly offering a more familiar Washington refrain now that they’re in Congress: not in my backyard.

The massive, $553 billion bill providing a budget for the Pentagon boasts millions of dollars that President Barack Obama didn’t request for weapons programs, installations and other projects in districts from Illinois to Mississippi represented by House GOP freshmen. The additions look suspiciously like the pet projects that Republicans prohibited when they took over the House and that the new class of lawmakers, many with tea party backing, swore off in a promise to change Washington’s spending habits.

Heated campaign talk of reining in spending and barring earmarks often cools once candidates get to Congress and face the needs and demands of their districts, especially in times of wobbly economic recovery and a widespread shortage of jobs.

Wait, you mean government spending can create jobs and improve local economies? I could of sworn I heard Republicans argue the opposite.

The larger point, of course, is that the new way of doing business on Capitol Hill looks an awful lot the old way. GOP officials continue to insist there are no earmarks in the bill, but the AP’s analysis found all kinds of Republican lawmakers boasting about quietly inserting specific spending provisions in the defense spending bill — provisions the Pentagon didn’t ask for, and which received little or no debate at the committee level — which will bring resources to their district.

That many of these same Republican lawmakers won in 2010 by railing against earmarks is apparently a pesky detail we’re not supposed to notice.

But it’s the bigger picture that looks even more damning. Those “insurgents” and “outsiders,” who were eager to overthrow the system, are getting settled in and finding that the system isn’t so bad after all. Their desire to “shake up” Washington, for example, doesn’t stop freshman Republicans from raising most of their re-election money from corporate political action committees. What’s more, we’re also seeing several Tea Party Republicans hiring corporate lobbyists to help oversee their congressional offices, and are going back to letting lobbyists write legislation.

There was also a Politico report last month that noted many of the far-right freshmen are already using their offices to do things “the Washington way.” That means “using a legislative process they once railed against as a way to assist donors, protect favored industries or settle scores with their political enemies.” These efforts include steps that look an awful lot like “payback for benefactors,” with nine GOP freshmen offering “targeted proposals that would assist major donors or supportive industries or bills that would hurt labor adversaries.”

I’m curious, is this what the anti-establishment Tea Party crowd had in mind last year?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • SteveT on May 28, 2011 9:00 AM:

    The only way we'll get the reforms that the country needs -- in health care, on Wall Street, in energy and for all the other problems we're facing -- is if we have public financing of elections with draconian penalties for violating election rules.

    Liberals should make public financing a litmus test the same way that conservatives have made abortion, repeal of ACA and opposition to raising taxes (and I'm sure there are others that I can't think of off the top of my head) absolute requirements to run as a Republican.

  • DAY on May 28, 2011 9:03 AM:

    "Iím curious, is this what the anti-establishment Tea Party crowd had in mind last year?"

    The only thing they had in their -ha-ha- "mind" was what Archer/Koch/et al put there.

    As to Congress; I'm reminded of that old chestnut that is so useful in so many instances: "I'm shocked that there is gambling at Rick's."

  • Jerry Elsea on May 28, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Sixth paragraph from end: "could have" instead of "could of." Provide your e-mail address and I'll send occasional corrections privately. We all understand your need to write in haste. As you reported yesterday, roughly 30 minutes to produce a cogent essay. Whew! Keep it flowing, Steve. It's great.

  • DAY on May 28, 2011 9:05 AM:

    -Armey, not Archer. Although Archer Daniels Midland probably played a part. . .

  • berttheclock on May 28, 2011 9:09 AM:

    They remind me of George Nethercutt, "Doc" Hastings and Sheriff Cobb from "Silverado".

    Nethercutt and Hastings, ran, in part on vowing to accept Term Limits, when, they were part of the '94 upset in the House. However, when, their terms were up, both refused to step down as they "were just learning the ropes and wanted to use their experience". Nethercutt only left when he ran, unsuccessfully for the Senate. "Doc" is still there.

    Sheriff Cobb was the character in "Silverado" played by Brian Dennehy, who led his Quantrillesque gang into town to "clean up the town". They succeeded and, then, took over the town and proceeded to be far more crooked than the group they defeated.

  • martin on May 28, 2011 9:55 AM:

    Jerry Elsea: Click on Steve's highlighted name at the end of each post and you will get his email address. And he usually responds.