Since the election, it has been disappointing to see that many elected Republicans appear not to have learned anything from the drubbing they suffered a month ago.
They elected basically the same leadership as before, rejecting conservative reformers Mike Pence and John Shadegg.
More disturbing, despite talk of reform, is that many in Congress went right back to budget-busting spending and earmarking following the election. The annual budget trainwreck has become a tradition in Congress, with Congressmen waiting until the last minute to pass major spending bills and often relying on continuing resolutions to extend the deadline.
This year, Congress only managed to pass the Defense and Homeland Security appropriation bills. This was actually a victory for conservatives, since it prevented appropriators from holding them hostage to their demands for more pork. After the election, appropriators planned to pass bills loaded full of unnecessary pork spending.
All that stood in their way: Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint.
Coburn and DeMint are true conservatives and taxpayer heroes. Both previously served in the House of Representatives. Coburn was famous for fighting wasteful spending in the House. His tactics, including a "filibuster" composed of hundreds of amendments to eliminate waste earned him the ire of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. DeMint was the leader (along with Mike Pence) of conservative efforts to stop the disastrous Medicare Prescription Drug bill. Both beat candidates favored by the party establishment in primaries before winning their seats in 2004. Both were aided substantially by the Club for Growth in their campaigns.
Coburn and DeMint used parliamentary procedure to hold up the appropriations bills unless congressional leaders would agree to strip 10,000 earmarks from the bill. The appropriators could have shut down the government, but that would have sparked a fight they would lose. Congressional leaders eventually passed a continuing resolution to fund the government until the Democrats take over.
The question now is what the Democrats will do. They could pass a continuing resolution for the rest of the year, in which case Coburn and DeMint will have saved taxpayers billions. Or they could try to load the bills full of their own pork projects. Given that many Democrats ran as "fiscal conservatives" opposed to a "culture of corruption" it will be interesting to see what they do.
Interestingly, this incident provides additional evidence for my thesis that pork spending has nothing to do with winning reelection. Robert Novak's original report on this subject list the prime appropriators involved as Robert Byrd, Thad Cochran, Jerry Lewis, and Kent Conrad, and his later report adds Ted Stevens and Bill Young. None of these people are even the slightest bit endangered. Besides, all of this occurred after the election. If pork wins elections, why do it now?
While many in Washington are resolved to continue wasting money, there are still a few real fiscal conservatives. Coburn and DeMint are heroes who deserve our thanks and support.