News & Politics

Leahy Dances Circles Around Pork-Thirsty Republicans Who Want It Both Ways on Earmarks

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Remember the great “Peanuts” cartoon strip where Lucy continually told Charlie Brown she would hold the football so he can kick it, then jerks it away just as he is swinging his leg, leaving him flat on his back wondering why he got fooled yet again?

There are a bunch of congressional Republicans right now who may be seeing Lucy whenever they pass Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the halls of Congress. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, jerked the earmarks football away from the GOP’s Charlie Browns this week.

A couple of weeks ago, as the House Republican Conference majority voted to support Democrats’ long-standing proposal to restore earmarks that have been banned since 2011, Leahy reassured skittish Senate GOPers that everybody would get an equal place at the pig feeder, excuse me, legislative process for divvying up the moolah.

“I’m perfectly willing to divide it equally between Republicans and Democrats. And so it will be up to them if they want it. If they don’t, we’ll just have it on the Democratic side,” the Vermont Democrat said at the time, according to Roll Call.

That was Lucy reassuring Charlie Brown that things will surely be different this time, she won’t make a fool out of him by jerking that football away a split second before his foot kicks it between those imaginary uprights. Really, Charlie, she promises!

But Leahy is singing a different tune this week, ostensibly because Senate Republicans did not follow their House colleagues’ lead on the issue of bringing back earmarks, holding a secret vote that many of them no doubt thought would allow them to have their cake and eat it, too.

After all, it was clear that Democrats on both sides of the Hill were determined to bring back earmarks and with a majority of House Republicans going along, saying nay in a secret ballot was a gimme for Senate GOPers. “We didn’t repeal our anti-earmarks rule,” they could tell the world.

In other words, they could publicly reassure constituents back home that they had opposed bringing back the gravy train, but, since the money was going to go to somebody anyway, it wouldn’t be right if they failed to make sure the folks back home got their fair share of the pork barrel.

Now it appears Leahy ain’t playin’ that game.

“’We just want to start having the bills and we’ll work it all out,’ Leahy said Monday when asked earlier this week if he still planned to give GOP senators half of the earmarked dollars in fiscal 2022 spending bills,” Roll Call reports.

There goes Lucy jerking that football away from poor Charlie Brown again. What Leahy is saying to Senate Republicans is simple: “You don’t get a share of the pork if you don’t stand up publicly with the rest of us.”

And I say three cheers for Leahy, the Senate’s oldest member, for quite possibly setting the scene for leaving some Senate Republicans holding an empty bag they thought was instead going to be filled with tax-paid goodies at no political cost to them.

No matter whether you call them “earmarks” or “community funding projects” — which is the new label — giving individual senators and representatives the opportunity to dip into tax dollars to spend on their favorite special interests back home without having an on-the-record vote is legalized larceny.

So, Hill Republicans who think taxpayers have forgotten the “Bridge to Nowhere” and prison inmates like Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), both of whom went to prison in earmarks scandals, could be at risk of getting yet another rude awakening come 2022.

Nobody is surprised when Democrats like Leahy openly talk about why they should get millions of tax dollars to spread around among their political allies. That’s what they do.

It’s those Republicans who talk out of one side of their mouths about “runaway federal spending,” while agreeing, publicly or otherwise, with Democrats about the need to “restore congressional spending prerogatives” i.e. bring back earmarks, that deserve voter opprobrium.

It reminds me of a fictitious Southern politician who was reputed to have admitted skimming off of state contracts. “Yeah, I take a little,” he said, “but I take good care of my friends, too.”