A Word on Santorum's 'Compassionate Conservative' Earmark Legacy

I wouldn’t say its been a well kept secret, but Santorum’s previous level of obscurity for the GOP nomination prevented his legacy of earmarks from getting its due mention. Senator Santorum’s career in Congress was during the heyday of big government conservatism.

I once wrote a spending bill thiiis big.

With GOP colleagues like Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert, Rick Santorum was very much apart of that infamous class. For Delay, he was then ,just as he is now, an outspoken supporter of earmarks. When the new GOP class promised to curb earmark spending, Delay was quick to voice his opposition.

“I am not one of those guys. The purse strings belong to the House of Representatives, and earmarks are one of the ways to keep the executive-branch honest,” DeLay said. “Why would you give up your responsibility and your authority to the executive branch?”

As for Dennis Hastert, the former longest serving speaker in Republican history left a long legacy of earmarks and questionable deals (but not illegal from Congress’s exemption to insider trading laws) that netted both him and his associates major profits. The story goes that Hastert owned some land that was of minimal worth, so he used appropriated funds stuffed inside a transportation bill that funded a highway project near the property. The new access road caused the value to increase. Hastert then later sold the property for a substantial profit, clearing $2 million. That seems easier than bending down to pick up a quarter on a sidewalk.

These were the dark days of “compassionate” conservatism, where wild discretionary spending was available for anyone in Congress with a pen. For Rick Santorum, he used his pen towards the sum of at least $1 billion in pork-barrel projects.

In the 2003-2004 session of Congress, Santorum sponsored or cosponsored 51 bills to increase spending, and failed to sponsor or co-sponsor even one spending cut proposal. In his last Congress (2005-2006), he had one of the biggest spending agendas of any Republican — sponsoring more spending increases than Republicans Lisa Murkowski, Lincoln Chafee and Thad Cochran or Democrats Herb Kohl, Evan Bayh and Ron Wyden (Club for Growth).

His Senate career lasted from 1995 to 2007, and the Club for Growth estimated during that time Santorum “requested billions of dollars for pork projects” (National Review).

Santorum’s remarks addressing his earmark legacy sounds exactly like Tom Delay’s defense of the practice.

“We appropriate funds,” Santorum said about Congress’s role in an interview Wednesday with CNN’s John King. “And as Ron Paul did, as Jim DeMint did, as just about, I think, every single member of Congress did, when you go to Congress, you make sure that when taxes go from your state to Washington, D.C., you fight to make sure you get your fair share back.”Later on in the interview, he added, “I also said that when earmarks got abusive, that we should end them.”

And in 2009, he said, “I’m not saying necessarily earmarks are bad. I have had a lot of earmarks. In fact, I’m very proud of all the earmarks I’ve put in bills. I’ll defend earmarks.”

Nothing is abusive to the fox guarding the hen house. It’s always open season, and as long as Congress removes itself from legalities preventing insider trading and misappropriation of funds, there will never be a standard on when the practice becomes abusive. There are no better angles on Capitol Hill. Just ask Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona.