The GOP: The Appropriations Party?

Posted on May 24, 2010

The rise of the Tea Party movement, the defeat of Bob Bennett, the victory of Rand Paul -- all these have all been driven by a popular backlash against runaway spending in Washington. The Republican Party's hopes of retaking Congress rest on its ability to convince conservative and independent voters that the GOP will restore fiscal discipline if trusted with power this fall.

Yet take a close look at the people sitting around the table at the Senate Republican leadership meetings. There are nine senators at that table -- and all but three are members of the powerful and exclusive club that decides how American tax dollars are doled out: the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Outside the halls of Congress, Republican politicians are divided into moderates and conservatives. But in the culture of the Senate, the real distinction is not between left and right but between appropriators and the rest. Appropriators hold the purse strings and dispense government largesse. They cut the backroom deals and decide who does and does not get an earmark. They are courted by lobbyists and feted by industries eager to get a piece of the government pie. They are the ones who gave us the "bridge to nowhere" and other infamous special deals. In other words, they represent everything that the grass-roots movement for fiscal discipline sweeping our country detests.

Why do they dominate the GOP leadership? Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is a member of the Appropriations Committee. So are Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the chairman and vice chair of the Republican Conference, the formal organization of the Republican senators. In addition to these elected leaders, McConnell has three appointed "consiglieres" who have a seat at all leadership meetings -- and all of them are appropriators. Judd Gregg (N.H.) is not only an appropriator but also the Republican author of TARP legislation and briefly President Obama's choice for commerce secretary. Bob Bennett just lost the Republican nomination in Utah after campaigning on the fact that he was an appropriator -- promising he could deliver for Utah because of his seniority on the energy and water appropriations subcommittee. Kay Bailey Hutchison was inexplicably added to the GOP leadership team after losing her gubernatorial primary in Texas, in a campaign where she declared that her success in bringing home the bacon for Texas should be "celebrated and appreciated." The only members of the Republican leadership who are not appropriators are John Kyl (Ariz.), John Thune (S.D.) and John Cornyn (Tex.).

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