This Time is Different?

Many pundits interpreted the 2010 midterms as an indictment of business-as-usual. Driven by the populist sentiments of the tea party, the expansion of government, and the bourgeoning national debt, the incoming congressional class was poised to be the agents of change.
At least that was one interpretation

So imagine my shock and horror when I read a piece by Kenneth Vogel entitled “Freshmen Quick to Play Cash Game.” As Vogel explains:

It’s the oldest political survival tactic in the book, and many of the House freshmen are already getting the knack of it: quickly refilling campaign coffers with cash from Washington special interests vilified on the campaign trail — this time by the tea party activists who helped elect many of them.

Since Election Day, first-term members of Congress have held more than 40 events on K Street, Capitol Hill and around town to schmooze and raise money from lobbyists, political action committees and other representatives of Washington interest groups eager to establish relationships with the new class.

All told, PACs have contributed over $444,000 to incoming members in the past three weeks. “After the midterm shake-up, many are anxious to use their PAC cash to curry favor with the congressional newcomers.”

Some freshman will undoubtedly retain fidelity to the promises made on the campaign trail. Senator Rand Paul, for example, has prepared his own budget that calls for $500 billion in cuts (including the elimination of the Department of Education). Even with the full support of Aqua Buddha, one can question whether Paul will be successful given his minority status. Regardless, my guess is that Senator Paul is something of an anomaly.

The GOP’s lack of candor in addressing the unsustainability of our largest entitlement programs (remember the Pledge to America) reflected the simple fact that these programs are quite popular (even among the tea party activists). Equally important, the incentive structure in Congress is quite powerful and, for all the populist fervor exhibited in the past few months, most of the PAC fundraisers occur behind closed doors and so many of the decisions they shape involve the minutia of government programs that rarely attract much attention from a media that is obsessed with chasing shiny objects.

The newly elected GOP majority in the House promised: “this time will be different.” My prediction, after the symbolic vote on health care, the changes will be marginal.

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