Anti-Corruption Proposal Urges Appropriations Term Limits
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WASHINGTON – Grover Norquist, president of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, is advancing a new approach to fighting government corruption: term limits for members of congressional appropriations committees.
Speaking to The New York Sun yesterday, Mr. Norquist claimed that members of appropriations committees developed a sort of groupthink over time, and regardless of their partisan affiliations, eventually began thinking like appropriators.
As he has in the past, most notably in his successful campaign to rename Washington National Airport after Ronald Reagan, Mr. Norquist seeks willing champions of his ideas in Congress.
“The best way to do these things is to troll for leadership,” Mr. Norquist said. “You toss the idea out, and then somebody in the House will go ‘that’s a great idea: it’s now mine.'”
Mr. Norquist has recently traveled with Rep. Tom Feeney, a Republican of Florida, who supports the idea and will help introduce it into the House.
“We’ll do it after the next election as a House rules change, which means you simply need a majority of the House caucus,” Mr. Norquist explained. “It’s a secret ballot.”
Mr. Norquist said he thought Republicans would maintain control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections in the fall, but that they would probably lose some seats they could have kept if they had shown signs they were working to fight wasteful spending.
“The thing that Congress can address…is the sense that spending is not going right,” Mr. Norquist said. “And it is correct to point out that the appropriators are a problem.”
Not surprisingly, the appropriators disagreed. “There are already term limits for both full committee chairmen and subcommittee chairmen,” Jim Specht, a spokesman for Rep. Jerry Lewis, a Republican of California and chairman of the House appropriations committee, said. “Chairman Lewis believes that’s certainly enough to ensure that those positions change often enough to bring some new ideas into them.”
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, criticized Mr. Norquist’s idea on economic grounds. “If you look all around us at term limits, whether they’re term limits in the California legislature, or term limits for committee chairs in the house of representatives, the unintended consequences inevitably outweigh the intended ones.”
Mr. Norquist also seeks to fight congressional spending abuses in the form of earmarks attached to larger bills, another idea Mr. Ornstein challenges.
“We had decades where appropriators absolutely resisted an explosion of earmarks, and that was true right up until the Republicans took over,” and for a time after, Mr. Ornstein said. Hoping for greater fiscal discipline was not “pie in the sky,” he said, “because it happened for some time.”
Mr. Ornstein was skeptical that rampant spending could be addressed with respect to earmarks alone. “Most of the outrages that occur here occur in other areas,” Mr. Ornstein said. “If what you really want to do is restrain the size of government, focusing on that tiny percentage that’s discretionary domestic spending just isn’t going to do the trick.”
Mr. Norquist acknowledged his policy was far from a panacea, but said it would make an appreciable difference. “Nobody thought it would solve all of the problems,” he said, “but people thought it would make things 20% better, 40% better.”
“I think we can do this,” he continued, “and I think it would have both a very real change in amounts of spending, but also would be a signal to people that the Republicans are wrestling with this.”
“You know, people don’t expect you to fix a problem right away, but they do get pissed if they see a problem and they don’t think you’re paying attention, or that you don’t care, or that you don’t get it. And this would be a way of saying ‘we do get it, we do care, and we’re working on it.'”