I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.
Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason.
If the voters express themselves clearly and unequivocally on an issue, it’s not enough to persist in doing the opposite on the grounds that “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” That’s what elections are all about, after all. And if this election has shown us anything, it’s that Americans know the difference between talking about change, and actually delivering on it.
Bringing about real change is hard work. It requires elected officials — whether they’re in their first week or their 50th year in office — to challenge others and, above all, to challenge themselves to do things differently from time to time, to question, and then to actually shake up the status quo in pursuit of a goal or a vision that the voters have set for the good of our country.
I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents. And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.
Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.
That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.
Over the years, I have seen presidents of both parties seek to acquire total discretion over appropriations. And I’ve seen presidents of both parties waste more taxpayer dollars on meritless projects, commissions, and programs than every congressional earmark put together. Look no further than the Stimulus, which Congress passed without any earmarks only to have the current administration load it up with earmarks for everything from turtle tunnels to tennis courts.
Contrast this with truly vital projects I have supported back home in Kentucky, such as the work we’ve done in relation to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Western Kentucky.
Here was a facility at which workers, for years, were unaware of the dangers that the uranium at the plant posed to their health or how to safely dispose of the hazardous materials that were used there. Thanks to an expose about the plant in the 90s by the “Washington Post”, the danger was made known and I set about forcing the government to put a cleanup plan in place and to treat the people who had worked there. Through the earmark process, we were able to force reluctant administrations of both parties to do what was needed to clean up this site and to screen the people who had worked there for cancer. These screenings saved lives, and they would not have happened if Congress had not directed the funds to pay for them.
Another success story is the Bluegrass Army Depot, which houses some of the deadliest materials and chemical weapons on earth. As a nation we had decided that we would not use the kind of weapons that were stored at this site; and yet the federal government was slow to follow through on safely dismantling and removing them, even after we’d signed an international treaty that required it. But thanks to congressional appropriations we are on the way to destroying the chemical weapons at this site safely and thus protect the community that surrounds it.
Administrations of both parties have failed to see the full merit in either of these projects, which is one of the reasons I have been reluctant to cede responsibility for continuing the good work that is being done on them and on others to the Executive Branch.
So I’m not wild about turning over more spending authority to the executive branch, but I have come to share the view of most Americans that our nation is at a crossroads; that we will not be able to secure the kind of future we want for our children and grandchildren unless we act, and act quickly; and that only way we will be able to turn the corner and save our future is if elected leaders like me make the kinds of difficult decisions voters are clearly asking us to make.
Republicans in and out of Washington have argued strenuously for two years that spending and debt are at crisis levels. And we have demonstrated our seriousness about cutting spending and reining in government. Every Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, for instance, voted against every appropriations bill in committee this year because they simply cost too much. Most included funding for projects in our home states. We voted against them anyway.
Banning earmarks is another small but important symbolic step we can take to show that we’re serious, another step on the way to serious and sustained cuts in spending and to the debt.
Earlier this month voters across the country said they are counting on Republicans to make tough decisions. They gave us a second chance. With this decision, I’m telling them that they were right to put their trust in us. And it’s my fervent hope that it will help demonstrate to the American people in some way just how serious Republicans are about not letting them down.
Republican Leaders in the House and Senate are now united on this issue, united in hearing what the voters have been telling us for two years — and acting on it.
This is no small thing. Old habits aren’t easy to break, but sometimes they must be. And now is such a time. With a $14 trillion debt and an administration that talks about cost-cutting, but then sends over a budget that triples the national debt in 10 years and creates a massive new entitlement program, it’s time for some of us in Washington to show in every way possible that we mean what we say about spending.
With Republican leaders in Congress united, the attention now turns to the President. We have said we are willing to give up discretion; now we’ll see how he handles spending decisions. And if the president ends up with total discretion over spending, we will see even more clearly where his priorities lie. We already saw the administration’s priorities in a Stimulus bill that’s become synonymous with wasteful spending, that borrowed nearly $1 trillion for administration earmarks like turtle tunnels, a sidewalk that lead to a ditch, and research on voter perceptions of the bill.
Congressional Republicans uncovered much of this waste. Through congressional oversight, we will continue to monitor how the money taxpayers send to the administration is actually spent. It’s now up to the President and his party leaders in Congress to show their own seriousness on this issue, to say whether they will join Republican leaders in this effort and then, after that, in significantly reducing the size and cost and reach of government. The people have spoken. They have said as clearly as they can that this is what they want us to do.
They will be watching.Yes, Mr. McConnell we will be watching. Mr. McConnell wants very much to be Majority Leader in 2012...but he wants even less a hard primary campaign which would leave him vulnerable to a loss...because the people of this country really are pissed at the irresponsibility of Congress in their spending habits. But, when it's all said and done...it's our fault for allowing them to do so...by continually re-electing them to office.
Yes, Mr. McConnell we will be watching everything you in Congress do over the next two years...the Tea Party movement isn't going to go away any time soon. The grown up are going to take back control of Congress from the irresponsible children who have over the past 100 years, but even more so in the past 30 years, driven us into a ditch and nearly off of the cliff.