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McCain, Palin and Hill GOP Unite on Earmarks Issue

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When John McCain and Sarah Palin gather here this week with congressional Republicans, there will be one topic above all on which they will try to speak with one voice: spending and earmarks.

As has been much-chronicled this year, McCain and his fellow GOP lawmakers haven't seen eye-to-eye in the past on a host of issues, from climate change and taxes to immigration and campaign finance reform. But the Arizonan's crusade against profligate government spending and earmarks has always been music to the ears of the party base. And now McCain has picked a running-mate whose primary claim to fame in her relatively brief political career is her opposition to the most famous earmark of recent years: the "Bridge to Nowhere."

In announcing his choice of Palin Friday in Dayton, Ohio, McCain said that he'd chosen "someone who's stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money on things they don't want or need and put it back to work for the people." And Palin followed by bragging, "I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress -- I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that bridge to nowhere."

Why is this message so attractive to congressional Republicans? Because many of them think that the party lost control of the House and Senate in the 2006 elections because of the perception that they had become addicted to power and pork, showing insufficient commitment to spending discipline.

"In 2006, the American people voted House Republicans out of power for one simple reason: We lost our way," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote in an op-ed in today's St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "And over the last 20 months, House Republicans have worked each and every day to renew our commitment to the principles that led the American people to trust us with the congressional majority in 1994."

That's where the presidential ticket comes in.

"With their background in fighting wasteful spending, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are perfectly suited to lead the charge against higher taxes and more pork," Boehner wrote. "And House Republicans are prepared to join them. We have pledged that if we are elected to the majority this November, we will enact an immediate ban on congressional earmarks, establish a bipartisan panel to fundamentally reform how Congress spends taxpayer dollars and adopt real spending limits that keep wasteful Washington spending in check -- all while blocking the Democrats' plan for the largest tax increase in American history."

Earlier this year, Hill Republicans made a big public push on the earmarks issue, calling on Democrats to agree to a full ban on pork projects. More recently, the GOP has shifted to hammer away on high gas prices and the need for more oil drilling, almost to the exclusion of any other issue. Will a renewed emphasis on earmarks and tightening the federal belt help GOP candidates in November? Do many Americans really vote on this issue?

"They vote on it when it becomes apparent, like the Bridge to Nowhere was, that their money's being wasted," said Republican pollster David Winston.

A review of polling data shows that spending and earmarks rarely come up when people are asked what the most important issues are facing the country. That may just be because pollsters usually don't mention the topic when they present respondents with a menu of issues from which to choose.

But Winston said that many voters become more concerned about wasteful government spending when they're worried about the broader economy, which means that the GOP's message may resonate in the current economic climate even if polls don't specifically show it. That said, it's unlikely that voters are ever going to worry as much about earmarks as they are about prices at the pump.

"As of right now, the No. 1 issue is still gas prices," Winston said.

By Ben Pershing  |  August 31, 2008; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Agenda , GOP Leaders , Purse Strings  
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Several months ago, I’d been asked by a Hillary supporter, “If not Hillary, who? …and if not now, when?” … and I said “How about Sarah Palin, young reformist Republican Governor of Alaska? Maybe she’ll give a great speech at the Republican Convention and end up the Nominee next time…hey, it worked for Obama!”

Ironic, ain’t it?

Now I need to know more about Palin. Good sign…someone said she vetoed a Bill that would have removed benefits from same-sex partners employed by the State government (if anyone has a reference for that, I’d appreciate a link). I appreciate what seem to be her reformist and ‘speak truth to power’ tendencies…though it’s starting to come out that some of her initiatives seem motivated as much by a personal grudge against those that slighted her, as by a real ‘honesty in government’ mindset. Again, any references, against or in support, are appreciated.

Posted by: purplemartin | August 31, 2008 6:35 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that Palin campaigned for the "Bridge to Nowhere" before she championed her "thanks but no thanks" to Congress. The earmark was removed by Congress after national outcry but the federal funds were still sent to Alaska to be used for other transportation projects. One such project is a $25 million three mile approach road to the "Bridge to Nowhere" location.

Posted by: aktruth | August 31, 2008 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Rove who packaged King George as Joe Everyman gave us the last 8-year national nightmare. Now, the same group is marketing McCain/Palin to clean up after the lemons who put us in this predicament. Let's hope we're not as dumb as they do.

Posted by: Charles Lewis | August 31, 2008 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Palin's claim to fame as opposing the "Bridge to Nowhere" has been exposed for the lie it is. She only began opposing the "Bridge to Nowhere" after the Congress had already cut off the earmark. It would be nice if our media did the slightest bit of homework before repeating the lies coming out of the McCain campaign.

Posted by: Mary | September 1, 2008 1:38 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the Aktruth who wrote, "The problem is that Palin campaigned for the "Bridge to Nowhere" before she championed her "thanks but no thanks" to Congress. . . .but the federal funds were still sent to Alaska to be used for other transportation projects. Additionally, people are not fully aware of all the great transportation, energy, education, fire & police protection earmarks are passed by Congress. Local governments and economic development agencies request very good projects and create jobs and invigorate their respective communities. Earmarks need to be visible and Members of Congress need to be linked to them, and this will clean up the questionable requests.

Posted by: Paul-pjhmga | September 1, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

McCain is just dreaming the votes for Cliton that he wanted to borrow for his four years term.

Posted by: Peter | September 2, 2008 3:28 AM | Report abuse

Palin as mayor brought in the federal bacon by hiring a lobbying firm to get some earmarks for Wasilla. In 2000 when the town had about 6,000 people or so she secured $8 million. In the next four years they received more to make $27 million for Wasilla, through earmarks!

Palin also campaigned for governor FOR THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE. Now you can't call her a reform person for that. She also did not return the earmark the state received for it, many millions. She misrepresented the case. In short, lied.

This is a front page Post article today. Makes all this talk here, Ben Pershing, seem quite decidedly wrong. Am I cynical when I think Republicans are very good at putting up a good front but that when you look underneath you find it's just a sham?

Posted by: B. L. Wickwire | September 2, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I don't know of a governor in the US who would not oppose building the bridge if she or he knew their state was still going to get over $300 million dollars from Washington. Do you really think Gov. Rell would have opposed that kind of a deal?
I plead for all authors of all newspapers to start doing the research before printing the copy given by the campaigns. We Americans need that kind of honesty. Will we get it from the politicans? I doubt it, but from what I have seen so far I think we have a better chance from Biden than we do from Palin.

Posted by: Jack Hickey-Williams | September 2, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Republicans and reporters like Mr.Pershing have been heavily touting Sarah Palin's "reformist" credentials, with her supposed opposition to Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" as Exhibit A. But how hard did she really fight the project? Not very, it seems. Let's look at what she actually said about it. Here's what she told the Anchorage Daily News, on October 22, 2006, during the race for the governor's seat (via Nexis):

5. Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?

Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now--while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.

So she was very much for the bridge and insisted that Alaska had to act quickly—the party of Ted Stevens and Don Young might soon lose its majority. She was fine with the bridge in principle, NEVER had a problem with the earmarks, bristled at all the mockery, and only gave up on the project when it was clear that federal support wasn't forthcoming. What a reformer! Please, don't take the public for fools. WaPo, please report all the facts, not just the latest Republican talking points, else you continue to lose credibility and viability with the sort of white-washed 'articles' coming from Mr. Pershing.

Posted by: Life Composer | September 7, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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