There is an important issue here. Soon-to-be House speaker John Boehner needs to understand that if he allows business as usual to continue in the House Appropriations Committee, his own reputation will be tarnished—for failing to address the corrosive effects of unchecked appropriators’ power. Indeed, enabling Old Bull earmarker Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) to take back the Appropriations chairmanship clearly jeopardizes the new speaker’s hopes for success.
To address the merits of the Livingston tenure, let’s turn to the late Bob Novak’s biography. Novak writes of being called to the Capitol office of the new House Appropriations chairman and his surprise at finding a portrait of the “very liberal” Republican Silvio Conte hanging over Livingston’s desk.
The new chairman explained to Novak that Conte was his mentor—“told me everything I know about appropriations”—and Novak explains: “Now I realized Bob Livingston was less a Republican or a conservative than he was an appropriator, as was Conte. House Appropriations Committee members constitute a band of brothers who crossed party and ideological lines in dictating how much, where and what would be spent by the government.
“I had thought Gingrich reached four rungs down the seniority ladder for Livingston to get a conservative reformer ending this buddy system of appropriators, but that was not it at all. I now realized that Gingrich was merely trying to get a younger, more competent appropriator…Livingston was keeping the Democratic staffers because he was an appropriator at heart.”
Or turn to Trinity College’s earmarks scholar Professor Diana Evans and her paper “Appropriations in the Republican Era”: “Livingston declined to fire key staff members who had formerly worked for the Democratic majority; he needed their expertise. Predictably, that decision provoked considerable unhappiness in the Republican Conference, whose more militant members saw the committee as part of the problem of excessive spending and pork-based logrolling that traditionally got things done in the appropriations process.”
As to the “unparalleled success” of the Livingston record, let us listen to the respected Stephen Moore, then with CATO, and a 1998 “open letter” he wrote Chairman Livingston.
“You argue that Republicans have kept their budgetary promises over the past three years. But saying this doesn’t make it so…The facts are undeniable. Here are just a few facts from the spending bills passed this past summer and fall that Republicans in Congress need to explain:
*Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding rises by $50 million, a 20 percent annual increase.
*Funding for Bill Clinton’s Americorps program rises to $423 million, a 5 percent increase.
*Funding for the long-ago obsolete Appalachian Regional Commission rises by $10 million, a 6 percent increase.
*Legal Services Corporation gets its largest budget ever at $300 million, a 6 percent increase…
“Scores of obsolete, unproductive and unconstitutional spending programs—programs that, for more than 20 years, Republicans promised to eliminate if they ever seized control of Congress—receive big budget increases in the first year of this ‘dream come true’ budget deal.
“The ultimate insult to conservatives is when you and Newt Gingrich call this year’s budget and its massive hikes in social spending a “Republican victory.”
That’s not my idea of “unparalleled success”—and it would be constructive for the new speaker to learn from Livingston’s experience.