In some of the more egregious hypocrisy taking place on Capitol Hill these days, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Republican leadership’s primary liaison to the Tea Party, represents the government-bashing, budget-slicing faithful with constant attacks on out of control or wasteful federal spending.
Apparently, just how wasteful the spending may seem to Cantor depends entirely upon where the spending is to take place. An $8 billion high-speed rail connecting Las Vegas to Disneyland is wasteful “pork-barrel spending.” But away from the cameras, Cantor pulls right up to the spending spigot like all the other members of Congress. On the very stimulus law he panned in public, records show Cantor pressing the Transportation Department to spend almost $3 billion in stimulus money on a high-speed-rail project—not the one he so vociferously and bitterly opposed in Nevada,but one in his own home state of Virginia.
Righteous indignation can be such a fickle lady.
In a letter he signed with other Virginia members in October 2009, cribbing President Obama’s own argument for the stimulus. Cantor said that the high-speed rail project in Virginia would, “demonstrate that this historic investment in rail will create jobs, reduce congestion, spur economic growth and improve our environment.”
Cantor signed several such letters, including an earlier one seeking rail funds a month after he went on national television attacking the Vegas project. He also signed a letter in October 2009 seeking $60 million to build commercial ships along Virginia’s coastline. As for his bashing of HUD, until last year he owned as much as $50,000 in preferred stock in a real-estate company that receives federal housing assistance from the department.
The so-called congressional supercommittee negotiating cuts has been floundering for weeks, but about five dozen of the most fiscally conservative Republicans, from Tea Party freshmen like Allen West to anti-spending presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Ron Paul have been trying to gobble up the very governmental generosity that they publicly disown.
I suppose one state’s wasteful spending is another state’s wisely-utilized investment; depending, of course, upon your constituency and what one wants his public persona to project.
In fact, the stack of spending-request letters between these GOP members and federal agencies stands more than a foot tall, and disheartens some of the very Tea Party activists who sent Republicans to Washington in the last election.
According to Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, when told about the stack of letters from members, many of whom he supported in 2010, “It’s pretty disturbing. We sent many of these people there, and really, I wish some of our folks would get up and say, you know what, we have to cut the budget, and the budget is never going to get cut if all 535 members of Congress have their hands out all the time.”
Many of the letters seek to tap the stimulus, clean-energy loans, and innovation grants—programs the same Republicans have accused Obama and the Democrats of using to bloat government and jeopardize America’s future. And these fiscal conservatives often used in their private letters the same arguments they pan in public.
Seizing on the Obama administration’s decision to make a risky half-billion-dollar loan to a struggling solar firm named Solyndra, House Speaker John Boehner and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa have recently accused Democrats of trying to pick winners and losers and questioned the need for the Energy Department loan-guarantee program at the center of the controversy.
Nevertheless, both Boehner and Issa struck a different tone in request for aid letters from that program in their respective home states; Boehner for a uranium project in Ohio, and Issa for an electric-car company in California.
One lawmaker’s pork-barrel spending, of course, has always been another’s opportunity to show his constituents he cares. But in an election cycle certain to revolve around the economy and unemployment, the divergence between rhetoric and reality is unusually stark. And to average Americans, the fiscal hawks’ public bashing of spending they seek privately feels a lot like watching a fitness guru gobble down a milkshake and a Big Mac.
Personal benefits also come in the form of farm subsidies. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a junior Republican from Indiana who came to Washington in 2010 to limit government, demonstrably scorned this year that “the president believes that ‘investing’ is spending more taxpayer dollars. It is time to invest in the nation’s future by controlling spending.”
But in 2010, the same year he entered Congress, Stutzman collected $4,061 in farm payments from the Department of Agriculture. Since 1997, his family has received $183,431 to grow corn, soybeans, and wheat.
Even Tea Party icon Allen West of Florida has gotten into “lettermarking,” a Washington term to describe efforts to seek money for pet projects. Though just 10 months in office, the House freshman has already written at least four letters seeking federal generosity for his district, including one asking to fund a pedestrian pathway in Riviera Beach, Fla. Twice in the letter West vows the project “will create better access to jobs and services.”
West offered a different take the next day during a speech to a local Chamber of Commerce chapter that protesters came to picket: “The people outside don’t understand,” he told the business leaders. “Government does not create jobs.”
When asked about the discrepancy, Angela Sachitano, a spokesman for West, said the congressman has been “consistent” in his support of some spending—I guess that is only so long as it benefits his district.