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Press Release - Rep. Jeff Flake: Newt Gingrich is "The Granddaddy of Earmarks"

January 20, 2012

"And I think all of us recognize that Newt is the father of contemporary earmarking. Earmarks exploded during the Newt era... And unfortunately, what was really pernicious during that time is that, my understanding it has always been that Newt instructed the appropriators to take members' races into account when they were passing out earmarks.... And so it really began in its contemporary form in the 1990s with Newt as Speaker. And he is really the granddaddy of earmarks."  - Rep. Jeff Flake Congressmen Jeff Flake, John Campbell, and Jason Chaffetz "Unreliable Leader" Press Conference Call January 20, 2012

Click Here To Listen To The Call

OPERATOR: "Welcome ladies and gentlemen. And thank you for joining the Unreliable Leader conference call. Ms. Gail Gitcho, you may know begin."

GAIL GITCHO, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: "Good morning everyone and thanks for joining the call again today. This morning we have another good call for you. We have Congressman Jeff Flake, Congressman John Campbell, and Congressman Jason Chaffetz on the line and they're going to talk to you about Newt Gingrich and his history as an unreliable leader and today's topic is going to be earmarks. So I will turn it over to Jeff Flake and we'll allow them to make some opening remarks and then we'll take some questions. So Congressman Flake go ahead." 

REP. JEFF FLAKE: "Alright, well thanks for being on the call. And I just want to say I got to Congress in 2001 and that was after Newt's time as Speaker. And I think all of us recognize that Newt is the father of contemporary earmarking. Earmarks exploded during the Newt era. And not just the number, but the fact that members, by that time, after the Newt era, kind of considered earmarks their entitlement. And unfortunately, what was really pernicious during that time is that, my understanding it has always been that Newt instructed the appropriators to take members' races into account when they were passing out earmarks. And that is what really led to the explosion of earmarks and what made it so difficult to root them out and that's why they went all the way until 2006 with the number being about 15,000 or so and the amount being about $40 billion. And so it really began in its contemporary form in the 1990s with Newt as Speaker. And he is really the granddaddy of earmarks. And so, anyway, John Campbell do you have anything to say on that."

REP. JOHN CAMPBELL: "Yes. Hi everybody. This is John Campbell of California. And I was elected first in 2005 and I frankly didn't know that much about earmarking but my first—out of my first 70 meetings, I had set up after I was a Congressman, 63 of them were people requesting earmarks. So I started looking into what is this. My gosh. I didn't know I was elected to be an ATM. I thought I was supposed to work on policy. And as I looked back and found out is that this whole thing grew up and started with Newt Gingrich to use earmarks in order to get votes for budget and in order to help people in difficult races. And so, as Jeff said Newt Gingrich is the father of modern earmarks. He began the whole process. There wasn't—we didn't have this problem in the '80s. And because of these earmarks, this is—it's not just the $40 billion—as Tom Coburn has said, 'They're the gateway drug to overspending.' It's the earmarks that were used to buy votes for bloated budgets. And so, in a sense you can say that Newt Gingrich has been a significant part of the reason that the budget has blown up. And that the budget has gotten to such enormous deficits and enormous debt because of this earmark culture that began under his speakership. And it's not something I think we should be proud of and it drives me crazy when I see people around the country and certainly in South Carolina saying 'Well, I may turn to Newt Gingrich because he's a conservative.' Not very conservative to have been the father of modern earmarks and to have been the guy who began the process which led to the debts and deficits that we have. Jason Chaffetz, I think you have more to say."

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: "Yeah. Thank you. Hi, this is Jason Chaffetz from Utah. And I appreciate being on with Jeff Flake and John Campbell. It is funny this narrative that gets out there about conservatives supporting Mitt Romney or not supporting. But the three of us have about as conservative a voting record as you can possibly get. Heritage Action said, for instance, I was the second-most conservative voting record in the House. And so, we didn't create this mess, but we are here to help clean it up. And one of telling numbers out there is that Mitt Romney enjoys 64 endorsements from current members of the House and the United State Senate compared to 13 for Newt Gingrich. Now, there's a reason why the former Speaker of the House—the person who used to run the place—has virtually no support within the body. It's because a lot of these messes—some of which Rick Santorum—Senator Santorum—talked about last night in the debate. But a lot of us talking here about the problems and things we're having to clean up were things that started and were initiated by Newt Gingrich. And earmarks as we've just been talking about. But another example—I'm on the Budget Committee with Paul Ryan. I was just elected. This is my second term—I'm in year three. When we produced a budget that over the course of the time, not only balances the budget but pays off the debt, to have Newt Gingrich go out there and refer to it as 'right-wing social engineering.' He is the last person we needed to fight against in trying to push this budget forward. We were fighting against Newt Gingrich and that was just not right. And then, we were talking about cap and trade and seeing him side by side and shoulder to shoulder with Nancy Pelosi again, another problem for us conservatives who are out there trying to fight this. And then you get into Fannie and Freddie and again you come back to Newt Gingrich. So the suggestion that he should be the leader of the free world and that he is the more conservative candidate, I think does not hold water. And I think there's a reason why there's such overwhelming support in the House and the Senate for Governor Romney. I know there are three House members, Texans, who joined on. Pete Olson, Kay Granger and Mike Conaway from Texas who endorsed today. Governor McDonnell was announced this morning. I think we're all seeking a leader who will help get our fiscal house in order and that's why we support Mitt Romney."

GITCHO: "Okay we'll go ahead and take some questions now, thank you."

OPERATOR: "Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, if you'd like to ask a question, please press the number one key on your phone. Again, to ask a question, please press the number one key on your phone now. Our first question will come from Reid Epstein with Politico. Please go ahead."

REID EPSTEIN: "Hi gentlemen. I guess my first question, given that none of you were in the House along with Newt Gingrich and that the current Speaker John Boehner was then the House Republican Conference leader, shouldn't he be held up just as much as Gingrich for the strategy that you're laying out about using earmarks as tools for re-election?"

REP. JEFF FLAKE: "This is Jeff Flake, I'll take that. I think that there are, I mean Newt was the Speaker of the House and when you talk to appropriators today, they pointed directly at Newt. John Boehner, I don't think has ever had an earmark in his political life. So he's not been of the practice at all. Just to give you some scale of numbers, I think you remember in 1986, Ronald Reagan vetoed the highway bill because it had, I think 120 earmarks. He said it contained more lard than... he hadn't seen that much lard since he was at the county fair and it had ribbons. In 1992, 500 earmarks in the highway bill. In the late 1990s, they'd climbed to 500 and it went up from there. And that was really a product of Newt rewarding individuals who had tough races with earmarks and so I don't think because it's because of John Boehner."

OPERATOR: "Our next question..."

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: "Reid, this is Jason Chaffetz, I just want to add that real quick, I would also give the Speaker credit for the fact, for the first year, there are no earmarks and that's a great credit, particularly to Jeff Flake and the conference of a whole but it wouldn't have happened without Speaker Boehner pushing the issue and making them go away."

OPERATOR: "Okay, our next question will come from Jennifer Rubin with the Washington Post. Please go ahead."

JENNIFER RUBIN: "Thank you all for taking the time to do the call today. I have a question for all of you, but particularly for Jeff Flake who was there during the Medicare Part D debate. Newt Gingrich claims that he was a historian or a consultant for a number of special interest groups, did he ever talk to you, urge you, lobby you in the sense of the face to face communications or over the phone communications on Medicare of Freddie Mac or any of the other issues that he was representing special interests?"

REP. JEFF FLAKE: "He never lobbied me individually, but I remember very well the meeting we had, the caucus meeting, the conference meeting, where Billy Tauzin brought Newt in as kind of the closer when they needed the last few votes. And Newt says, quite memorably said, that 'if you can't pass this bill, you don't deserve to govern.' And, yeah, he lobbied us pretty hard in that meeting. My understanding is he lobbied some members individually but he didn't lobby me individually."

OPERATOR: "Our next question will come from Felicia Sonmez with the Washington Post. Please go ahead."

FELICIA SONMEZ: "Hi Congressmen, thank you so much for having the call this morning. I'm just wondering if, you know, in last week's debate, Governor Romney seemed to struggle a little bit with his answer on his tax returns. I'm wondering your thoughts on whether he should release those sooner than April and whether you're satisfied with his answer on that question so far."

(CROSSTALK)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: "This is Jason Chaffetz. If you look at the personal financial disclosures, you're going to find much more information than probably any tax return that can be out there. I'm satisfied in that he's going to follow the precedent that was laid before him and release his taxes around tax season if he were to become the nominee."

OPERATOR: "And again, ladies and gentlemen, at this time if you do have a question, please press the number one key on your phone. There are no more questions in the queue."

GAIL GITCHO: "Guys, thanks everyone for joining the call today. If you guys have any follow-up, we certainly will take them. Congressmen, do you have any final remarks to close the call with?"

(CROSSTALK)

REP. JOHN CAMPBELL: "No, I'm good. Thank you everyone."

GAIL GITCHO: "Thank you everyone."

Mitt Romney, Press Release - Rep. Jeff Flake: Newt Gingrich is "The Granddaddy of Earmarks" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/299747

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