Nethercutt Out to Renew Congressional Earmarks

By Tom Bacon

Eastern Washington's former congressman George Nethercutt is a master at upsetting the status-quo. He defeated a sitting U.S. House speaker in 1994 and put eastern Washington into the GOP column. Then he infuriated term-limit backers by refuting his own term-limit pledge in 2000. Now, Nethercutt is calling for renewal of congressional earmarks, putting him at odds again with the most conservative wing of the GOP.

In a blog post written for The Hill, a DC political publication, Nethercutt calls for a return to earmarks in appropriations bills. Nethercutt wrote that when Congress abolished pet projects of lawmakers in 2010, it set up an unintended consequence - that of new members becoming purist legislators who disdain compromise.

New lawmakers come into office now, he said, dismissive of the very things that made Congress work in the past - compromise and earmarks. He cited both Tom Foley - the man he defeated in 1995 - and GOP congressman Bill Young of Florida  - both of whom died last month. He said they were standard bearers of an era where dignity, seniority and orderly congressional operations were the norm.

Nethercutt said Foley and Young matured and flourished under the system in which President Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill could sit down over Irish whiskey and reach policy agreements. O'Neill could twist arms by threatening members with the loss of their treasured earmarks, and Reagan gladly accepted 80 percent victories.

The former congressman said earmarks account for less than half of one percent of the federal budget, but that they can bring order to the strife that now exists. He said "new members might not like it, but it might avoid the gunslinger, self-serving mentality that some elected officials employ which destroys public confidence in the federal government."
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