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.
August 31, 2008; 3:25 PM ET
Categories: 2008 Campaign , Agenda , GOP Leaders , Purse Strings
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