The Tea Party Pork Binge
Oct 30, 2011 10:00 AM EDT
They brought the nation to the brink of default over spending, but a Newsweek investigation shows Tea Party lawmakers grabbing billions from the government trough. Plus, view the letters submitted by the 'Dirty Dozen.'
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Republican leadership’s tether to the Tea Party, flutters the hearts of the government-bashing, budget-slicing faithful with his relentless attacks on runaway federal spending. To Cantor, an $8 billion high-speed rail connecting Las Vegas to Disneyland is wasteful “pork-barrel spending.” The Virginia Republican set up the “You Cut” Web site to demonstrate how easy it is to slash government programs. And he made the Department of Housing and Urban Development the poster child for waste when he disclosed that the agency was paying for housing for Ph.D.s.
But away from the cameras, Cantor sometimes pulls right up to the spending trough, including the very stimulus law he panned in public. Letters obtained by Newsweek show him pressing the Transportation Department to spend nearly $3 billion in stimulus money on a high-speed-rail project—not the one he derided in Nevada, but another in his home state. “Virginia ... will demonstrate that this historic investment in rail will create jobs, reduce congestion, spur economic growth and improve our environment,” says a letter he signed with other Virginia members in October 2009, cribbing President Obama’s own argument for the stimulus.
Cantor signed several such letters, including an earlier one seeking rail funds a month after he went on national television attacking the Vegas project. He also signed a letter in October 2009 seeking $60 million to build commercial ships, some likely along Virginia’s coastline. As for his bashing of HUD, until last year he owned as much as $50,000 in preferred stock in a real-estate company that receives federal housing assistance from the department.
As the government showdown over debt continues—the so-called congressional supercommittee negotiating cuts has been floundering for weeks—Newsweek found about five dozen of the most fiscally conservative Republicans, from Tea Party freshmen like Allen West to anti-spending presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Ron Paul, trying to gobble up the very largesse they publicly disown, in the time-honored, budget-busting tradition of bringing home the bacon for local constituents.
Documents: See the Letters From the 'Dirty Dozen'
From left: Alex Wong / Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images; Alex Wong / Getty Images
The stack of spending-request letters between these GOP members and federal agencies stands more than a foot tall, and disheartens some of the activists who sent Republicans to Washington in the last election.
“It’s pretty disturbing,” says Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, when told about the stack of letters from members, many of whom he supported in 2010. “We sent many of these people there, and really, I wish some of our folks would get up and say, you know what, we have to cut the budget, and the budget is never going to get cut if all 535 members of Congress have their hands out all the time.”
Many of the letters seek to tap the stimulus, clean-energy loans, and innovation grants—programs the same Republicans have accused Obama and the Democrats of using to bloat government and jeopardize America’s future. And these fiscal conservatives often used in their private letters the same arguments they pan in public.