Flake criticizes GOP earmark strategy

While House Republican leaders touted their push for a bipartisan moratorium on the use of congressional earmarks, at least one conservative member vocally criticized the move as not enough.

“We really missed an opportunity,” said Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (R-Ariz.). “Had we gone for a moratorium…in the end [Democrats] would have had to follow our lead.”

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Flake indicated that the major flaw was that the moratorium was largely contingent on whether Democrats would capitulate to the Republican political pressure.

“Republicans and Democrats seem content to play out the Alphonse and Gaston routine on earmark reform – ‘You first.’ ‘No, you first,’” said Flake.

The GOP initiative falls short of a proposal spearheaded by Flake, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Republican Study Committee Chairman (RSC) Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) that would have placed a moratorium on earmarking until 2009.

At least one group that is supporting Flake’s bid for an open Appropriations Committee seat has sided with the lawmaker.

Conservative blog RedState.com changed its initial post on the GOP plan that congratulated House Republicans to one chiding them for not moving far enough.

“At the very last minute, pulling a tactic from the Senate Republicans, House GOP leadership CAVED and backed out of their planned moratorium on earmarks,” editor Erick Erickson wrote on the site.

However, other conservatives urged patience with the Republican plan that came out of the three-day retreat to the historic Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Pence argued that “House Republicans have taken a meaningful step toward bringing true earmark reform to the floor of the United States Congress.              

However, he added that, if Democrats refuse to join the Republicans in abstaining from pork barrel projects, the GOP must go the next step.

“If Democrats should refuse to accept this challenge, House Republicans must continue to lead on earmark reform by embracing an immediate moratorium on all earmark spending,” he said.

Friday night, House GOP leadership sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging her to join their conference in a pledge to ban earmarking until the system could be thoroughly reformed.

According to sources familiar with the discussions inside the room Friday, the idea of the moratorium until 2009 had caught on as a growing number of members appeared to be warming to a pork-free diet.

The sources said an initial vote taken to gauge interest in the moratorium revealed more interest than previously thought. However, vulnerable members and appropriators eventually caused leadership to scale back the plan.

A GOP leadership aide indicated that the letter to Pelosi was one of the first steps in a multilayered strategy to end earmarking in the House.

“This is the first step House Republicans are taking, and further steps remain under active discussion,” the aide said.  “If the Democrats don’t join us in acting to halt earmarks, we will use all of the options at our disposal to do so whether it’s discharge petitions, floor tactics, and any other means necessary.”

Democrats have argued that Republicans fail to recognize the reforms that were put in place at the beginning of the 110th Congress. One Democratic aide cited reforms such as requiring lawmakers requesting an earmark to disclose the name and address of the intended recipient, the purpose of the earmark, and to certify that the member (and his or her spouse) had no financial interest in the request. The reforms also banned the use of earmarks to reward or punish a member for any vote he or she might cast, added the requirement that all matters before a conference committee be subject to debate and allowing for the review of the conference agreement before it is signed.

The aide added that Republicans had failed to implement any of the cited changes during their tenure in the majority.

Flake said that, despite his belief that this particular opportunity was squandered, he held out hope that this would open the door to future sweeping reforms and eventually the elimination of pork barrel spending.

“We are going to get there someday, someday soon,” he said. “We can be at the front of this train or we can be run over by it.”