Earmarks (Finance)

On Washington: For Republicans, the Tea Party Is Over

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Republicans who supported the measure emphasized the added $165 billion over two years for the Pentagon. But they weren’t shy about proclaiming back-home benefits as well.

“This budget agreement will directly benefit the First District of Georgia,” Representative Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, the Republican who represents that area, said in a statement. “It invests in American infrastructure and will be vital in the fight to secure resources for our ports and the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.”

The spending push reflected years of pent-up demand that resulted from Republican adherence to Tea Party-driven fiscal restraint, along with the party’s animosity for President Obama and a pronounced unwillingness to fund his priorities.

Republican defense hawks said the restrictions imposed by formal spending caps were badly weakening the military. To get those restrictions lifted, top Republicans cut a deal with Democrats who were happy to take advantage and get a plethora of their own top proposals paid for in the bill.

Not to be forgotten in assessing the deal is the fact that Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, who co-wrote the agreement, is deep in his congressional heart an appropriator — a member of the once-powerful panel that took immense satisfaction in doling out the federal dollars.

Until he found his anti-earmark religion when funding such pet projects fell out of favor, Mr. McConnell used to celebrate his spending skills, running back home to trumpet all the projects he had delivered to a state that was badly in need of federal largess. Mr. McConnell is not afraid to spend federal dollars.

Some Republicans warned that their party had made a huge miscalculation in getting behind the budget measure.

“With the passage of this spending package, I fear Republicans have ceded our moral authority to lead our nation away from eventual national insolvency,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican and longtime deficit hawk, who is retiring.

Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, seized on the opportunity provided by the measure to win a level of domestic spending that seemed almost unthinkable just a few days ago — an increase of $131 billion.

It was a victory for them in most respects, but there was one big exception — the bill ignored the plight of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. In agreeing to fund the government, Democrats lost their best leverage to win immigration concessions. It was that outcome that drove dozens of Democrats in the House and the Senate to oppose the measure.

After inflating the deficit during the administration of George W. Bush and subsequently losing control of Congress and the White House, Republicans were sheepishly apologetic, admitting that they had let their spending urges get the better of them. They promised they wouldn’t do it again, and those pledges helped them slowly win their way back to unified control of Washington.

Now they have done it again. Republicans might earn a bit of gratitude from voters who support a beefed-up Pentagon budget and see some helpful federal investment in their own backyards, as well as an end to a debilitating cycle of government shutdowns and dysfunction.

But Republicans may also pay a price at the hands of fiscal conservatives who believe that party leaders have fallen back into bad habits and betrayed bedrock beliefs by joining with Democrats in a spending spree.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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