Rep. Jeff Flake has slayed his first dragon, so we’re not surprised that a congressional spending watchdog group named him as its only “taxpayer superhero.”
Flake, R-Ariz., has been on a quest to stop an entrenched practice in Congress for individual lawmakers to slide spending “earmarks” into budget bills so they bypass traditional scrutiny and debate. Many earmarks really are pork projects that divert federal tax dollars to pay for matters that should be the responsibility of local groups — if they are needed at all — simply to build goodwill for incumbents looking ahead to their next election campaign.
Such earmarks added $64 billion to federal spending in the 2006 budget, the Tribune’s Paul Giblin reported Thursday. They also have led to rampant corruption in Washington, ala former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif.
As we noted on these pages a year ago, Flake has garnered plenty of media attention for trying to embarrass his colleagues by forcing floor votes on the most outrageous earmarks. But his campaign had appeared quixotic as lawmakers from both parties moved to protect their privileges by repeatedly funding everyone else’s pet projects.
Still, Flake has remained tenacious about his campaign, even after Republican leaders stripped him of a key committee assignment in January. And June 28, he finally scored his first defeat of an earmark, or should we say victory for taxpayers. On Flake’s motion, the House voted 249-174 to reject a request from Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., for $129,000 to pay artists in his home state to make holiday ornaments for the Perfect Christmas Tree project, Giblin reported.
Other media reports indicate Flake was aided by the fact that McHenry has made himself pretty unpopular on Capitol Hill. But the construction of every monument begins with a single brick or stone. Perhaps a better indicator of the gradual progress by Flake and like-minded earmark critics was found in another story by Giblin Saturday, in which he reported that Sen. Jon Kyl and Reps. Harry Mitchell and Raúl Grijalva have disclosed billions in spending requests for the next budget.
Such revelations had been almost nonexistent in the past until after budget bills were adopted by Congress. More timely releases of such information would provide the taxpayers a better opportunity to study spending proposals, and to put more pressure on Congress to reduce the bloat in the federal budget. Flake isn’t alone in this campaign. Giblin noted Saturday that Sen. John McCain and Rep. John Shadegg also are continuing their policies of not requesting individual earmarks.
But Flake has shown some extraordinary courage on this issue, which is why he received the only perfect rating from Citizens Against Government Waste and was awarded the title of superhero. We’ll look to see if Flake has any other superpowers.