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Tomlinson: Boehner should make reformer Kingston appropriations chairman

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Washington, Nov 6, 2010 | comments
By: Kenneth Y. Tomlinson
The Washington Examiner

They are Republicans, but these notorious House appropriators are symbols of the Washington that enabled the GOP last week to score a massive victory at the polls.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif, the former Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, earmarked a million dollars to rebuild the swimming pool back home where he once worked as a lifeguard. He got another million for the Jerry Lewis Community Center in his hometown of Highland.

One paragraph in the definitive Citizens Against Government Waste study of earmarks and pork explains why Lewis has been under investigation by the Justice Department for years: The Small Biz Tech Political Action Committee paid $42,000 to Lewis' stepdaughter.

The PAC is led by the head of Trident Systems, a defense contractor that has received at least $11 million in earmarked funds from the Appropriations Committee Lewis chaired.

Meanwhile, it is no accident that Rep. Hal Rogers, who hails from the mountains of Kentucky, is known as the Prince of Pork. In the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security to battle terrorism.

Not to be outdone, Rogers earmarked the National Institute of Hometown Security, located in his hometown of Somerset, and has funded it with tens of millions of dollars. There is a lot of competition, but this might be the most obscene earmark in history.

Cleaning up the appropriations process -- specifically earmarking -- may be the most significant reform to emerge from the Tea Party movement. Incredibly, Lewis and Rogers are actually involved in maneuvers that may well preserve their appropriations power.

"[Speaker] John Boehner says he's going to listen to the American people," said American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene. "If he enables either Lewis or Rogers to take over appropriations, the speaker will be telling the voters he is tone-deaf."

Keene is urging Boehner to enable Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, now the fifth-ranking Republican on the appropriations panel, to have a clear run in the GOP conference for the chairmanship. Kingston is a favorite of conservatives who regard him as clearly committed to appropriations reform.

By House Republican term-limits rules, Lewis is prohibited from reassuming the chairmanship when GOP members caucus later this month. But Boehner has granted a waiver to David Drier, R-Calif., to resume the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, and insiders believe he is seriously considering granting a waiver to Lewis.

If the speaker declines to grant this waiver, in ordinary times Rogers could be the choice for the chairmanship. In 2004, Lewis defeated Rogers in the GOP caucus when it was learned the California Republican had written a check for $600,000 to the party's campaign fund. Rogers had given only $300,000. Since then, Rogers has vastly increased his contributions to Republican colleagues.

But conservatives appear very serious about appropriations reform, and Kingston would be favored by handicappers to emerge from the caucus the victor over Rogers and maybe even Lewis.

Kingston is a solid conservative (he has a near perfect ACU rating), and he is widely respected for his work to reform appropriations -- even if pork has found its way to Kingston's largely rural coastal district. He was responsible for the earlier House Republican decision to declare a moratorium on earmarks.

But Kingston has told friends he will not run against Lewis in the House Republican Conference if Boehner grants the former chairman a pass from the term-limit rule. That, of course, would not stop hard-liners from appealing to the conference to lift the speaker's ability to grant waivers.

Some believe Boehner and House Republicans would do well to consider the politically corrupting relationship his predecessor Newt Gingrich had with appropriations before enabling Lewis to resume his old job.

Gingrich paved the way for former Rep. Bob Livingston to become appropriations chairman. Then they shamefully used the appropriations process to the re-election advantage of House Republicans. Indeed, it was during the Gingrich tenure that Congress experienced the greatest increase in earmarks in its history.

With the mood of American voters, this is a path House Republicans may not want to take again.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson is former editor in chief of Reader's Digest.

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