Roe: Davis flip-flopped on earmarks

Hank Hayes • Jul 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Fourth in a series

Both 1st Congressional District GOP incumbent David Davis and Republican challenger Phil Roe claim to be fiscal conservatives, but one is accusing the other of flip-flopping on a contentious spending issue — federal earmarks.

Roe, Johnson City’s mayor, said Davis wanted earmark reform during his 2006 campaign but reversed position.

“Well, he did. He either changed his mind or something, but he did,” Roe said of Davis’ stand on earmarks.

Davis, during the 2006 Republican primary race, told the Times-News that Congress needs to control federal earmarks.

“We’re spending too much money attaching budget bills to other pieces of legislation,” he said two years ago.

After being elected, Davis signed on to legislation — which is stuck in a House committee — to cap earmarks at 1 percent of total budget outlays.

But he also filed earmarks to bring federal funds back into the district.

“They need to be open and transparent and available for public scrutiny,” Davis said of earmarks. “The Constitution gives the right of funding to start in the House of Representatives, not in the Senate, not in the White House. This talk about earmarks is not to lower the budget. It’s to shift where the money goes. It’s still going to come from the taxpayer. People in Washington want to shift it to the White House. If they shift it to the White House, money in Tennessee would go to Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga. You would not see any money coming down to Northeast Tennessee or rural America.

“Rural Americans pay taxes, too. ... East Tennessee deserves its fair share coming back. We wouldn’t have a medical school (at East Tennessee State University) if there wasn’t something called an earmark.”

Roe said Davis should sign an earmark reform pledge proposed by taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.

The pledge, Roe noted, calls for members of Congress to fully disclose all earmarked funding or targeted tax benefit requests on their Congressional Web sites; to not request any earmarked funding or targeted tax benefit provision that would be directed toward a specific private entity that was not requested by an agency; and to support legislation to end linkage between campaign contributions and earmarks.

Whoever the next president is, Roe insisted there should be a debate about the future of earmarks.

“Everyone is afraid to blink,” Roe said. “If the other guy is doing it, I’m going to do it. ... There’s nothing wrong with going out and trying to bring back tax dollars and go to Washington for the taxpayers in your own district. That’s your job. But that should be separate from a campaign contribution. I would be extremely nervous about taking a campaign contribution and then having an earmark going to someone.”

Roe claimed his service on the City Commission — with six years of budgets without a property tax increase — makes him more qualified to go to Washington.

“I do have a philosophy that you spend less than you take in. ... Revenue is not the problem. It’s how you choose to spend the money,” Roe said. “The federal government has no incentive to not spend ... since they can print money and borrow. You need a leader who has the vision that’s the wrong thing to do.”

Davis stressed the Republican minority in Congress has stepped up this year to vote down tax increases in budget bills.

“I can tell you the Republican Congress this session has voted down every tax increase that has come along — about $683 billion in the last month or two, which would be the largest tax increase in American history,” Davis said.

Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that claim was inaccurate.

“This year’s budget plan does not include a tax increase,” Greenstein said in a prepared release. “It actually calls for a $340 billion reduction in revenues, reflecting its assumption that Congress will extend some parts of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts without offsetting the costs.”

Another Davis co-sponsored measure that has failed to gain traction in Congress is a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.

“The Republican Congress was held accountable two years ago (when they lost majority status),” Davis said of the measure. “I think that’s why you’ve seen Republicans start to introduce legislation, with this new class of freshmen I’m in, to sponsor legislation for a balanced budget.”

Roe indicated the rate of federal spending is unsustainable.

“Between 1996 and 2000, federal spending went up by 1 percent a year. After that federal spending went up 11 percent a year, and your economy was growing at 3 percent a year,” he explained. “The incentive is to bring home stuff and get yourself re-elected.”

For more about Roe, go to www.roe4congress.com.

For more about Davis, go to www.rightforcongress.com.

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