GOP lawmakers blame Newt Gingrich for modern budget woes

Three Republican members of the House who have backed Mitt Romney for president unleashed on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on Friday, calling him “the father of contemporary earmarking” and blaming him for an explosion of the size of the federal budget.

Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) accused Gingrich of buying votes for bloated budgets with earmarks for endangered incumbents, with Flake calling him “the father of contemporary earmarking.”

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The strikes came during a conference call organized by Romney’s campaign, which is eager to undercut Gingrich’s credibility ahead of Saturday’s primary in South Carolina. Recent polls suggest Gingrich has retaken the lead over Romney in the Palmetto State, likely the last chance for any of Romney’s rivals to stop him from clinching the GOP nomination.

“This whole thing grew up and started with Newt Gingrich to use earmarks to get votes for the budget and in order to help people in difficult races,” said Campbell.

Romney’s team has been dispatching congressional surrogates all week to attack Gingrich, but earlier appearances had featured members who had served at the same time as the Georgia Republican and could personally attest to what they called his “unreliable leadership” as Speaker of the House.

Friday’s attacks by more recent House additions — Flake, Campbell and Chaffetz all were elected to the House after Gingrich departed — represented a shift by the Romney campaign to assigning culpability for Congress’s modern woes to the man who led the House in the 1990s.

“We didn’t have this problem in the '80s," Campbell said. "You can say Newt Gingrich has been a significant part of why the budget has blown up.”

Flake said it amounted to "Newt rewarding individuals who had tough races with earmarks" that they could then parade before their constituents.

And Chaffetz also recalled a Republican caucus meeting where the former House Speaker was brought in as “the closer,” putting his thumb on the scale long after he resigned.

“Newt quite memorably said, '‘If you can’t pass this bill, you don’t deserve to govern,' ” Chaffetz said. “He lobbied us pretty hard at that meeting, and my understanding is he lobbied some members individually.”