Tea Party’s First Victim: Earmarks

A fiscally responsible thing happened on the way to the November 2 election:  Rep. Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) announced on behalf of the House Republican Leadership an internal party rule mandating that Republicans will not earmark in the next Congress.  This is excellent news for the Tea Party movement and it fills in a missing element of the “Pledge to America.”

Late in the summer, House Republicans fumbled the ball on the issue of earmarks.  On August 23, House Republican Whip Cantor was quoted in Politico saying that earmarks might return in the next Congress based on “merit, not muscle.”

If this weren’t enough, because of intraparty disagreements, the House Republicans did not write anything in the Pledge expressing a promise to rid the budgeting process of the corrupting, wasteful earmarking process.  Last week, though, Cantor picked that ball off the turf and ran with it.  It looks like GOP leaders will now take it into the end zone in the House and Senate Steering Committee Chairman Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) will make that same run in the Senate.
 
Cantor published an op-ed in Politico last week in which he declared:  “The next Republican Conference should immediately move to eliminate earmarks.  Should Republicans be elected the majority party, I believe that we should extend the moratorium to the entire House, to Democrats and Republicans alike.”  This announcement is the first evidence of the downfall of earmarks in 2011.

Here is how this scenario plays out.  The House Republican Conference will meet the second week of November to organize with newly elected members.  They will have a vote to extend the earmark moratorium into next year.  Cantor’s call has been joined by longtime anti-earmark Republican warriors Tom Price (Ga.), the chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) and Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.).

The Senate Republican Conference will also meet the second week of November.  DeMint is expected to force a vote on a one- or two-year earmark moratorium.  Blocking down the field on this for DeMint will be GOP Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).  This is a tougher battle in the Senate, because, unlike the House Republicans, Senate Republicans have not adopted an earmark ban for this year.

Nationalizing Phones

The Department of Transportation, under the leadership of Secretary Ray LaHood, is considering measures to pressure states to ban hands-free cell phone use by drivers.  There is a national problem with distracted driving, but federalism dictates that this is a state issue.  Furthermore, the federal government shouldn’t force a state ban on hands-free devices that are designed to allow important communications to continue between drivers and others with minimal distractions.

Bloomberg reported last week that officials of the U.S. Department of Transportation are working on a plan to ban all cell phone use by drivers of cars, including hands-free technology.  LaHood included hands-free devices as a distraction to motorists and he has ordered the Department to study means to push for a national ban.

LaHood went as far as to single out Ford, GM and all Bluetooth-enabled hands-free devices.  The approach to force states to change laws will play out much like the efforts to force states to lower state speed limits to 55 mph and to standardize drinking ages in the states.  The Department is expected to ask Congress to condition highway funding on the states’ changing laws to conform to LaHood’s definition of distracted driving.  Car stereos and screaming toddlers may be next on the list of items to ban from cars and trucks.

Net Neutrality-Lite

House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.) released a draft of his “Net Neutrality” legislation just before Congress left town to campaign.  This proposal will grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authority to regulate the Internet and stifle innovation.  The plan is called a compromise, yet there should be no compromise on freedom on the Internet and no restrictions on the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans to communicate on the web.

According to James Gattuso, expert on regulatory and telecommunications issues for The Heritage Foundation, “There is simply no justification for granting the FCC any jurisdiction over broadband Internet service.  At a time when the economy is sputtering under a growing mountain of regulation, why should Congress expand that regulation to one of the few successful parts of the economy?”  The new law would empower bureaucrats at the FCC to become Internet traffic cops on a case-by-case basis.

Waxman did withdraw his proposal at the end of the session because he could not garner Republican support for the “compromise.”  Yet conservatives should worry about this model legislation in the next Congress.  Congress should look dimly on any regulatory ideas that start America down the road of regulating the Internet.

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