Much has been written about the House GOP Leadership's plan to ban earmarks for two years. The praise they have received from conservatives is justified, because it seems, at least for the time being, that their proposed moratorium doesn't have the weaselly wiggle-room sometimes employed by politicians. It is also likely that their stance pushed former earmarker-extraordinaire Sen. Mitch McConnell into supporting a similar ban in the Senate. Who knew the 'road to Damascus' veered past the Potomac?
So far, so good. The ban on earmarks may be largely symbolic as it won't, on its own, lower federal spending, but symbols are important. They only take you so far, however. While House GOP Leadership have tipped their hats to the tea party movement with the earmark ban, other actions they are taking this week behind the scenes will neuter the movement and consign the incoming freshman to the back of the Congressional bus.
This week, the GOP caucus will finalize committee assignments. Committees are the workshops of Congress, where legislation is debated, tweaked and finalized. Legislation emerging from committees is the legislation that comes to the House floor for a vote. (The Democrats by-passed this process, but the GOP is expected to return to committees to their traditional legislative function.)
But, not all committees are created equal. The House has a group of committees called the "A" committees, through which all significant legislation must pass. These committees are so powerful, there is even a limit on how many of these committees a member may serve.
Big Government has learned that the House GOP Leadership has made it clear; no freshmen need apply for these committees. They are reserving them for the existing members, thank you very much.
Reviewing the list of "A" committees, you can readily see the implications. Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, Financial Services and Rules are all "A" committees. Any movement to cut federal spending will have to go through Appropriations. Any repeal of ObamaCare or push-back on cap and trade will go through Energy and Commerce. Ways and Means covers tax policy, in addition to entitlements. Financial Services could start to peel away the Wall Street bailouts and provide some oversight for the Fed. And, Rules controls how every piece of legislation reaches the floor and which amendments to bills are allowed.
Not one newly-elected Congressman will serve on any of these committees, according to the House GOP Leadership. The 80+ GOP members just elected will have no voice in any of the debates about spending, taxes, entitlements, bailouts or health care. The incumbent GOP Congressmen, many of whom helped create this mess, will handle it.
To be fair, it has been traditionally tough for freshmen
to win slots on these committees, as these positions are highly competitive. But, this past election was anything but traditional. In any given year, there were maybe a dozen or so new members. This year, freshman members make up about one-third of the GOP caucus. Excluding them from "A" committees is a deliberate action. It requires willful action and jostling of assignments to pull it off. You have to go out of your way to ensure that one-third of a caucus is excluded from these committees. Unfortunately, the House GOP Leadership did go out of its way.
If this GOP Leadership rule prevails, expect a great deal of disappointment next year. Maybe Barack Obama is partially right; maybe we are just handing the keys back to the same members who drove us into this ditch.