Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 2 a.m.
In the past year, Republicans have decried government spending and tried to burnish their badly tarnished credentials as fiscal conservatives after the Bush years. Republicans took over the House of Representatives this year with pledges to control the budget and cut the deficit.
In the recent debate over the federal debt ceiling, Republicans have increased the rhetoric, bashing President Barack Obama for increased government spending. But, behind the scenes, their talk doesn’t necessarily match their walk.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that nearly two dozen Republican freshmen in the House have pushed for spending in their districts that could cost the government billions of dollars.
For example, Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Tea Party star, advocated for $150,000 to start work on a project to deepen the harbor channel in Charleston. The overall project, estimated at $300 million, would allow bigger cargo ships to use the port.
The Obama administration didn’t see the project as worthy and did not include it in its budget. But Scott, who represents Charleston, continued to push for it and enlisted the help of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Graham tried to secure the money via an earmark. Scott and Graham pledged to tie up government — and Graham said he would block Obama’s nominees from being confirmed in the Senate — until the government provided the money.
Where was all the Tea Party outrage? After all, this is a picture of what Republicans said was wrong in Washington: Members of Congress demanding increased government spending on a parochial project and even trying to use an earmark.
But their tantrum worked. They got the money.
Up the coast in New Jersey, conservative freshman Rep. Jon Runyon, who campaigned against “fiscal insanity” in Washington, advocated for the federal government to spend millions of dollars replacing sand on his state’s beaches. The Republican Study Committee, a conservative House caucus, questioned the effectiveness of such beach erosion programs and targeted them for elimination, arguing that beaches were the responsibility of the states, not the federal government. But Runyon was happy to let federal taxpayers pick up the tab and boasted about securing more than $7 million this year for the program.
Despite all of the talk about tightening budgets, 22 Republican freshmen wrote a letter to the House leadership this year calling for more military spending than what the president had requested. It’s no surprise that many of their districts feature defense contractors or the military.
One of those freshmen, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, worked diligently to bring Pentagon spending home by attaching amendments to legislation, including a provision to spend $150 million for a combat ship to be built in his district.
Palazzo campaigned against earmarks last year, as did many Republicans and Tea Party adherents, but Palazzo’s staff defended his actions, saying the amendments are somehow different.
None of this is a surprise. The Republicans are well known for talking big about the budget and doing otherwise. Under President George W. Bush, the deficit skyrocketed as he launched two wars and cut taxes, all without paying for them.
It has been galling to watch as Republicans have blocked progress and blame others for problems they helped create. If they are really serious about dealing with the issues in Washington, they should quit pointing the finger and look in the mirror.