20 September 2007

Standing Up for Discipline in Washington

There is a terrific piece out by Time magazine about Republican Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma for their role in attempting to bring some fiscal discipline to the United States Senate.

The Republican base - an often mocked term here in New England these days - is across the country made up of fiscally conservative people who reject the idea that Government should spend money as fast as it can print it, if not faster. This is a basic tenet of the Republican Party, once you get outside Washington, it seems. And it is a theme that brings Republicans together. It is only recently that the perversions of this idea, via the veto-less explosion of earmarks and out-of-control spending, has it gotten lost by too many politicians in Washington.

"Senator Tom Coburn spent a good part of last Wednesday trying to stop the federal government from building bike paths. He wanted to redirect the $12 million allotted for them to shoring up U.S. bridges following the collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people. The amendment failed 80-18. Undeterred, Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, immediately introduced his second amendment of the day: a motion to suspend all earmarks — or pet projects often attached in secret to funding bills — until structural integrity of all U.S. bridges can be verified."

It's gotten so bad that it is of note that Senators Coburn and DeMint are standing up for sanity on the floor of the looney bin. Common sense says that we probably ought to spend money on bridges rather than bike paths. And yet 80 members of the U.S. Senate saw fit to vote against the amendment.

As long as fiscal discipline and responsibility remain campaign rhetoric, as long as the fight waged by Senators Coburn and DeMint continues to be an uphill battle every time, the Republican Party will continue to suffer nationally. Senator DeMint is quoted in the article, understanding just this point: The Republican base is "frustrated with us for not carrying through on the spending issue and over-spending. It's the reason we're not in the majority and it's going to take us a while to earn that trust back," DeMint told TIME in an interview in his offices last week.

The leadership of the Republican Party in Washington seems to miss the point. Republican Whip Senator Trent Lott is quoted: "A lot of their amendments when they're offered don't make a lot of senators happy," Lott said. "I mean senators voting for bicycle paths instead of bridge repairs? That's not the smart vote substantively or politically." Until Senator Lott stops worrying about making Senators happy and regains his concern for what makes Americans happy, there is little hope for improvement in either account.