If the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska doesn’t trigger a major turnaround and a cleansing of Republican Congressional leadership, then they are beyond hope. This guy, Mr. Bridge to Nowhere, is the “poster child” for everything that went wrong with the Revolution of 1994 and the “earmark” culture spawned by the disastrous “K Street Project” that began the downfall of the credibility of Republican leadership in Washington. John Fund has it nailed in his column last week: the GOP choice is between two models–the Stevens model, the motto for which could be his statement, “if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next”, or the Tom Coburn model, which is illustrated by the Oklahoma Senator’s crusade against earmarks, bloated spending bills, and the culture of parochialism that undermines the national interest.
Frankly and amazingly, it seems that it could go either way. Coburn himself admits that far too many of his colleagues are unwilling to return to the principle of limited government. Exhibit A is the farm bill, an embarassing $307 Billion monstrosity that doles out subsidies to the growers of every crop, including those in the top one percent of earners, in spite of the fact that national farm net income has increased by 56% over the past two years! It passed with 81 votes in the Senate and 318 in the House, and almost half of Republican House members subsequently voted to override President Bush’s veto. To his credit, John McCain opposed the bill, and issued this statement: “It would be hard to find any single bill that better sums up why so many Americans in both parties are so disappointed in the conduct of their government, and at times so disgusted by it.”
His reputation for fiscal toughness may be one area in which McCain can gain some significant traction in the presidential race, but he will need to be much more outspoken on it. I didn’t hear one word from him in response to the Stevens indictment. He should have characterized this event for what it is–a shameful testament to a strategy and culture gone wrong, and moreover an opportunity to assume a strong leadership role in making his party’s choice for the Coburn model and its immediate turnaround on spending policy.