In Praise of Partisan Politics


I always hear people deriding the partisan politics in Washington. It comes from both sides of the aisle and from a lot political independents. It's also voiced by many Washington elites like David Broder and Dan Balz of the Washington Post. But is it really true? Simply looking at this earmark fiasco in Congress I have to say that partisanship is helping to create more transparency. Now, I fully understand that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) have a personal distaste for earmarking – neither of them ever request earmarks – but one cannot deny that Boehner, Flake, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) were not making a partisan political decision when they decided to attack Rep. David Obey's (D-WI) plan to hide all earmarks until after conference committee. What Obey was doing was terrible for transparency and openness and the Republicans found an opening in a tough political climate where they could score points with their base and with a larger group of Americans. That's politics. And guess what? This political decision has led a number of congressmen to release their earmark lists to the public for the first time.

As Bill wrote in the previous post, 31 congressmen released lists of their earmark requests to CNN when asked. This is a pretty small number (under 10%) but it's a starting point. And what could help make even more members of Congress release their earmark requests. More partisanship! Today, Roll Call reports that Democrats are attacking some of the Republicans leading the earmark battle against Obey for refusing to release their earmark requests to the public.

In a memo sent to reporters by Democratic aides, Democrats attacked several Republicans for “hypocrisy” in last week’s earmark battle, which ended when House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) was forced to abandon a plan to keep earmarks hidden until after bills had already passed the House floor.

The Republican Members also came under fire from outside watchdog groups for not releasing their earmark requests.

“How can you go to the floor and make a strong stand in favor of transparency and then not release your lists?” asked Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste. “It seems like pure politics.”

I can't imagine it will be that long before Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Dan Burton (R-IN), and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) release their earmarks. Partisan political pressure may be the best way to reach out to congressmen.

The leadership of both parties, to end this battle, should demand that all members of their respective party release their earmarks. Partisan politics can make things happen. They can even make Congress more transparent and open. Or maybe I’m just being a bit too optimistic.