The euphoria which accompanied the resignation of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was short-lived. After the dust settled, the only man standing in the race to replace him is Bob Livingston, a little-known member from Louisiana. He is short on charisma and conviction, two qualities necessary for a speaker capable of leading Republicans out of their current malaise.
So, how did Livingston end up in this position? What Livingston lacks in charisma and conviction he more than makes up for in cash. As chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, he is the one who, in effect, gets to write the checks for all discretionary spending. Those on the receiving end of the taxpayers’ largess are, shall we say, grateful — so grateful that they don’t mind donating large amounts of money to his political action committee. Livingston, in turn, distributes this money to other members, who are equally grateful. That’s why he was able to pick up so many votes so quickly when he threw his hat in the ring for speaker.
If ever there was a poster child for campaign finance reform it would be Bob Livingston! However, the kind of reform that is needed has not been proposed. Members should not be able to transfer campaign cash to other members. It makes your representative more beholden to the people in leadership than he is to the people back home. The same problem exists with Jennifer Dunn who is vying with Steve Largent to unseat Majority Leader Dick Armey. Dunn has spent much of her time since coming to Congress raising money, which she generously distributes to other members who are beholden to her. That’s why, last year, many conservative members of Congress helped elect her to the position of vice-chairman of their conference, even though she is an abortion rights advocate.
That is the situation as Republicans prepare to elect a successor to Newt Gingrich and other officers of the House of Representatives. This vote is not about who is most committed to the principles expressed in the Contract with America, or who is best able to communicate those principles to the American people. It is about who has given your member the most campaign cash.
Electing Livingston speaker is like letting the fox in the chicken coop. When he first was appointed chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he had a highly respectable 79 percent rating by the non-partisan National Taxpayer’s Union, the equivalent of a B+. After four years of temptation, his rating has slipped to a 47 percent, or a C-. The National Taxpayers Union does not pull any punches. These ratings are calculated by using every roll call vote that affects spending in a given year.
To make matters worse, Livingston has indicated that if he is elected speaker, he may select Jerry Lewis of California as his replacement on appropriations. Lewis is liberal on the social issues and his NTU record is a dismal 43 percent. He’s one of only a handful of Republicans to receive a “D.”
In comparison, Chris Cox of California, who just bowed out of the speaker’s race after polling members and tallying the votes, received a B+ from the National Taxpayer’s Union. If Republicans elect Livingston speaker, who, in turn, puts Lewis in charge of the appropriations process, who can take them seriously when they talk about cutting government and reducing taxes.