A little earlier today I watched Citizens Against Government Waste unveil its 2007 Pig Book. These press conferences are usually sessions of therapy and Congress-bashing and despair, which made it surprising when CAGW President Tom Schatz presented two charts that showed Congress's pork spending rate plunging.
"The Congressional Pig Book this year is the smallest it's been since 1999," Schatz said. "And the reason for that is standing right next to me here, Sen. Jim DeMint." DeMint, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake were on hand to bask in the glow of a cleaned-up appropriations process and, eventually, admit that the GOP blew it by not taking charge of this sooner.
"I don't think that the Republican Party lost the election because of the war in Iraq," said a depleted-sounding McCain. "I think the Republican Party lost because of our failure to control spending and earmarking, which then led to corruption, which then led to members of Congress going to jail." In particular, McCain begrudged his peers for larding up Defense appropriations bills. He had a little faint praise for the Bush administration: "I'm pleased at the president's attitude, even if I don't understand the promise to 'cut earmarks in half.' I don't know how you determine that. That's like saying we're going to 'put half of all drug dealers in jail.'" (Behind-the-curtain moment: An ABC reporter used the Q and A to pivot and ask McCain about Barack Obama's investment history. That's where this story came from.)
Flake and DeMint agreed that the GOP had lost its way on spending and that the Democrats had actually done a decent job in the House of reforming the process—although DeMint took credit (correctly) for pushing that House version through Harry Reid's Senate. "I may be overly optimistic, but I think report language earmarks are dead," said DeMint. Rep. Flake was the most hard-headed of the bunch: "There's been a drop-off, but the notion that you have 2000 earmarks in a Defense appropriations bill is still absurd, he said. "I challenged a few eamarks in the floor, some of them in Defense appropriations, and no one came forward to say they put them in the bill." Flake also promised to introduce a resolution, already written, to investigate claims of pressure to pork up bills if reports of this filter through the House.
You can get the pig book here. I interviewed Rep. Flake briefly after the presser; if the Reason podcast feature magically starts working, I'll upload it the very next second.