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John McCain was a taxpayer hero

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The late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not only a war hero. He was a taxpayer hero, as well.

He often said that he would never be named “Miss Congeniality” by his fellow senators, due in large part to his longstanding and ongoing crusade to expose and eliminate wasteful spending, particularly earmarks. His leadership on the issue was unparalleled. 

{mosads}He inspired others to join him in fighting earmarks, including his nine fellow original co-sponsors of the Earmark Elimination Act, introduced on January 23, 2018. He said, “The practice of congressional earmarks breeds corruption, leads to egregious overspending, and places the needs of special interests before those of the American people. Lifting the current moratorium on earmarks would only accelerate the erosion of public trust in Congress and send taxpayer dollars to unnecessary pork-barrel projects. For decades, I have fought the often lonely battle against earmarks, and I’m proud to join my colleagues today to introduce legislation that would make permanent the ban on this corrupting practice.”


Pick any year and any appropriations or transportation bill during Sen. McCain’s lengthy career on Capitol Hill, and it is likely that he was on the floor of the Senate railing against the pork-barrel projects contained therein. He brought his extensive lists of these projects to the floor and read through them to both expose them to taxpayers and embarrass their proponents. Without his leadership on earmarks, there would not be a moratorium on this wasteful and corrupt practice.

Sen. McCain always had some choice words about earmarks, including $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana: “I don’t know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue.” 

As an early adopter of Twitter for this sort of humorous fiscal shaming, on February 26, 2009, he tweeted, “Tmr I am gonna tweet the TOP TEN PORKIEST PROJECTS in the Omnibus Spending bill the Congress is about to pass,” And he did, going after “$2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York — “quick peel me grape” … $2 million ‘for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii — because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy” … $1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah – is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits? …” and “$300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center – enough said.” 

He uncorked another tweetstorm on January 26, 2014: “Get ready… Top 10 examples of pork barrel spending in $1 trillion #Omnibus approps bill Senate votes on tonight!”

Sen. McCain backed up his criticism of wasteful spending with numerous reports, including “Summertime Blues: 100 Stimulus Projects that Give Taxpayers the Blue,” co-authored in August 2010 with former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). He was a defense hawk who never hesitated to call out wasteful spending at the Pentagon, including the Boeing tanker lease, which was not only cancelled in favor of an open bidding process, but also exposed corruption and bribery at the Department of Defense that led to the incarceration of two individuals involved in that procurement process. 

Sen. McCain backed up his words with his votes. His Council for Citizens Against Government Waste lifetime rating was 89 percent, including a perfect 100 percent in 2007, making him a lifetime “Taxpayer Hero.” 

From his participation in every possible Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) Congressional Pig Book press conference to agreeing to be one of the organization’s first guests at the new policy breakfast series in 1998 and becoming one of the first members of CAGW’s Board of Governors, he was unquestionably the most important individual in CAGW’s history outside of the group’s co-founders, J. Peter Grace and Jack Anderson.

More than that, he was, as many others have noted, a truly honest and forthright person who made everyone at CAGW feel that they have been and always will be waging a critical and necessary war against government waste on behalf of the American people.

It has been a true honor to fight side-by-side with John McCain, who said CAGW “made a difference in the debate” over earmarks, giving members of Congress the “ammunition to use when we go home and talk to our constituents and make them understand how pernicious and how corrupting this process of earmarking is.”

He will be remembered fondly and affectionately.

Thomas Schatz is the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit group advocating for less waste in government.

Tags John McCain John McCain Pork barrel spending Tom Coburn

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