By David Keene - 11/22/05 12:00 AM EST
House Republican leaders finally got their act together last week and managed to pass their Deficit Reduction Act and take one small step toward bringing federal spending under control. The difficulty they encountered in enacting even minuscule savings, however, should convince them that what is needed is structural reform of the process rather than daily attempts to scale back programs with major support among their colleagues.
Oklahoma’s Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) has taken pains to remind conservatives and Republicans alike that eliminating an earmark here and there will have little impact on total spending, and, of course, he’s right. Even before the House vote on reconciliation late last week, news was spreading that Alaska had given up trying to save what came to be known as “the Bridge to Nowhere.”
The bridge had, of course, become a symbol of the out-of-control spending that has characterized recent Congresses. It appeared on the cover of Parade magazine, and anti-spending forces vowed to defeat it even at the risk of enraging some of the most powerful members of both houses. They succeeded and celebrated, but buried in stories of their victory was the news that, while the bridge might not be built, the money thus “saved” will be freed up for other transportation projects in Alaska.
This little detail may have been passed over by some, but it underscores the difficulty of a purely tactical approach to spending reduction. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) went ballistic earlier when it was suggested that the bridge be canceled and the money thus saved be spent instead in Louisiana, but seemed less than upset at the denouement since it had no real impact on money that would flow into his state.
The problem is not just or even primarily the earmarks, but the inability or unwillingness of elected officials to maintain anything even resembling discipline vis-