On Wednesday’s Mark Belling Show (WISN-1130), Belling expressed dismay that I would run against the 5th Congressional District’s longtime congressman, Jim Sensenbrenner.
Unlike Tom Petri and others, Belling argued, Sensenbrenner isn’t part of the Republican "earmarks crowd," "spending crowd," "do anything to stay in power crowd" and "let’s not try to do anything to solve any problems crowd."
So why, Belling wondered, would I run against Sensenbrenner?
Belling called me, among other things, a "pissant" and an "ankle biter." Since he won’t return my phone calls or e-mails and he won’t let me respond on the air, I would like to respond here in the Milwaukee Biz Blog.
‘The earmarks crowd’
Congressman Sensenbrenner hasn’t been an advocate of earmarks for Wisconsin. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t voted for earmarks – and lots of them. Between 2001 and 2007, when Republicans were in control in Washington, Sensenbrenner voted for about $95 billion in earmarks – an amount more than 50 percent higher than Katrina relief. Much of that pork was jammed into Defense and Homeland Security bills, and most of it went to other states.
So Wisconsin got the worst of both worlds during that expensive six-year period: high levels of deficit-spending on earmarks, but almost none of it coming back to our state.
Earlier this year,. Sensenbrenner did sign Dick Armey’s "Earmark Pledge" promising to vote against any and all bills containing earmarks – two weeks after I signed it. It’s unfortunate that it took a little competition and accountability to get him, after a decade of voting for earmarks, to take that important stand. But better 30 years late than never.
‘The spending crowd’
The problem with my Republican Party during the six expensive years it controlled Washington was not simply the people – it was, and is, an intellectually-dishonest current of thought that equates conservatism with tax cuts. Sensenbrenner and other Republican career politicians sign, year after year, the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose all tax increases. Instead, they should be signing a pledge to oppose all deficit spending – because Sensenbrenner and others are primarily responsible for saddling our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars in debt.
The intellectual dishonesty is supported by a legion of organizations supposedly dedicated to protecting taxpayers: Congressman Sensenbrenner was named a "Treasury Guardian" by one, a "Hero of the Taxpayer" by another and a "Tax-fighter" by a third – all in 2003, the same year he cast a deciding vote in favor of Medicare Part D, what may turn out to be the biggest new program in American history.
So, Sensenbrenner saw fit to support a bill that will cost $8.7 trillion – more than half the size of our current annual GDP – without paying for a single penny of it. He supported hundreds of billions of dollars in Defense expenditures – without paying for it; trillions of dollars in tax cuts – without paying for it; and even advocated (in the Milwaukee Biz Blog) – a stimulus tax cut of over $100 billion – you guessed it, without paying for it.
Spending trillions of dollars without paying for it isn’t conservative. Cutting taxes without paying for it isn’t conservative. The one pledge Sensenbrenner refused to take is the one I wrote – to vote against all deficit spending during times of economic growth.
‘The do anything to stay in power crowd’
Has anyone noticed that the two major presidential candidates both ran against their respective party structures? Barack Obama actually beat a Clinton. He outraised her without taking PAC contributions – and he energized an army of young voters. John McCain, a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, cut his teeth fighting special interest influence while Sarah Palin took on career politicians in her own Republican Party. Americans are hungry for politicians willing to take on the special interests.
Conservatives shouldn’t look past the fact that Congressman Sensenbrenner has been one of the House’s top abusers of special interest money. He takes a greater percentage of his contributions from lobbyists and PACs than most. And while Sensenbrenner and his family racked up over $200,000 in free travel from lobbyists and other special interests during that expensive six-year period – even more than Tom DeLay – his staff took another $340,000. As I wrote in a Milwaukee Biz Blog in April, even if it’s not technically illegal (Congress writes its own laws), it looks corrupt.
And we conservatives must have the integrity to be critical of these corrupt practices – even if it means pointing the finger at one of our own.
Doing anything to stay in power? Sensenbrenner signed the Contract With America – as did many Republicans still in the House – committing himself to term limits (a "citizen legislature"). Yet he, and many others, turned their backs on the pledge.
‘The let’s not try to do anything to solve any problems crowd’
I won’t argue that Sensenbrenner hasn’t tried to solve problems. It’s just that I disagree with how he’s tried to solve them.
On energy, he supported the 2005 ethanol mandate, driving up fuel and food prices while creating a massive corn ethanol infrastructure. Three years later, he is spinning himself, with hundreds of thousands in taxpayer-paid mailings, as an opponent of ethanol – despite his responsibility for giving us the mandate.
And on other fronts – health care, entitlement reform, immigration, the national debt, and more, we’ve seen no progress. In fact, in many ways the problems have gotten worse.
We all – Democrats, Independents and Republicans – agree that Washington is broken. One thing we can be sure of is this: If we keep sending the same people back, nothing will change.
Mark Belling, I have long appreciated your sharp, insightful mind. My hope is that you and others can acknowledge that the recent conservative sellout on deficit spending is just plain wrong. From tax cuts that weren’t paid for to war spending that wasn’t paid for to a massive Medicare bill that wasn’t paid for, my opponent and others like him are responsible for a massive, unprecedented transfer of wealth – from our kids, to themselves.
Congressman Sensenbrenner has undeniably spent too much, without paying for it. Let’s hope that on Sept. 9, for the first time in 30 years, he does pay for it.
Jim Burkee is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin and is a Republican candidate for Congress in Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District against F. James Sensenbrenner.