Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Capitol Hill Reformer Faces Uphill Battle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Capitol Hill Reformer Faces Uphill Battle

Article excerpt

After years of bashing congressional "pork" on the floor of the House - and losing on lopsided votes - Rep. Jeff Flake is seeing his signature issue become a party bandwagon. But he's not on it.

When the House Republican Steering Committee had to find someone to fill a vacancy on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, aka Pork Central, they chose a newcomer to reform, Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, over Representative Flake and several others.

"Of those candidates, Jo Bonner was chosen because he symbolizes the changing perspective in the House Republican ranks on the role of earmarks, and the emerging consensus among Republicans on the need to fundamentally change Washington's broken spending process," said House Republican leader John Boehner in a statement announcing the appointment last week.

"From this point forward, a member's willingness to change and support dramatic change in the spending process will be grounds for reward, not punishment," he added.

But to Flake - and the public interest groups supporting him - it all whiffed of punishment, especially after the four-term lawmaker from Arizona was also bounced off his top committee assignment last month.

"I was told that I was taken off the Judiciary Committee because of 'bad behavior,' " said Flake in a phone interview. "I guess to be a team player you only challenge Democratic earmarks. I don't think that's right."

Flake launched his "Egregious Earmark of the Week" campaign in December 2004 and, with other conservatives, has led floor fights to challenge scores of earmarks. He has won only one - a bid to strike $129,000 for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree project, a Republican earmark, in June 2007.

This year, however, both parties have been talking up various earmark reforms in response to public ire over corruption and waste. Budget watchdog groups urged putting Flake on the spending committee as a signal that Republicans, who presided over a spike in earmarks during their 12 years in the majority, were serious about change. …

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