Republicans in Congress, particularly those of the Tea Party persuasion, like to blast earmarks (AKA pork barrel spending) as a waste of taxpayers’ money and the main contributor to the federal deficit. They especially like to criticize President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, even though most economists agree that the stimulus and the extension of unemployment benefits helped prevent the Great Recession from deteriorating into a depression.
We’ve come to expect this type of carping from the party that likes to hold itself up as fiscally conservative, especially during a raucous election campaign. But what makes their objections hard to swallow is that the conviction of their words doesn’t match up with the their actual actions.
Take for example Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. He has been one of the harshest critics of the stimulus plan, but months after Congress approved the nearly $800 billion package, the Wisconsin lawmaker was trying to steer money from the program to companies in his home state.
Rep. Ryan wrote letters in 2009 to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grant money for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies, according to the Associated Press. One of them, the non-profit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., later received $20.3 million from the Energy Department to help homes and businesses improve energy
The Energy Center of Wisconsin, another non-profit organization that promotes energy efficiency, received $190,000 in stimulus money to conduct research on geothermal heating and $50,000 more to develop a training curriculum for students at Milwaukee Area Technical College, the AP reports.
Ryan said at the time that the money would help his state create thousands of new jobs, save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those are worthy goals, to be sure. However, this is in sharp contrast with Ryan’s public statements denigrating the stimulus program as a "wasteful spending spree." It also conflicts with his larger federal budget proposal, which would slash Energy Department programs aimed at creating green jobs.
Of course, Ryan is not the only one guilty of talking out of both sides of his mouth. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Tea Party darling, criticized an $8 billion high-speed rail connecting Las Vegas to Disneyland, but then pressed the Transportation Department to spend nearly $3 billion in stimulus money on a high-speed rail project in his own state of Virginia, according to Newsweek.
House Speaker John Boehner and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa also have spoken publicly against such pork, while at the same time bringing the bacon home for their own districts. Furthermore, in a letter to Boehner and Cantor, 65 House Republican freshman -- or roughly three-quarters of the class -- asked that the House consider a miscellaneous tariff bill jam-packed with special provisions to suspend duties on various foreign goods, even though it runs counter to the earmark ban Republicans campaigned on in 2010 and instituted when they took power, according to another report in Politico.
The list of examples goes on. In fact, Newsweek reports that the stack of spending-request letters between GOP members and federal agencies stands more than a foot tall.
"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," the magazine wrote.
Republicans can blast Democrats all they want, but the truth is they’re just as much a part of the problem of bloated budgets as anyone else in Washington. To make matters worse, they want to perpetuate the deficit crisis by instituting more tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. Isn’t that how we got into this mess in the first place?