No sooner had Senator Chris McDaniel launched his campaign for the United States Senate, a race pitting him against a six-term incumbent, when the defenders of the status quo came to the aging incumbent Thad Cochran’s defense. One fearless Cochran guardian, Brian Perry from Madison County, recently wrote in the Laurel Leader Call that without the elder Senator’s presence in Washington there would be Mississippi “counties without hospitals or roads to get to where the hospitals are not.” Without the tireless work of Senator Cochran, says Perry, we would have closed military bases, fewer police, and smaller universities. Perry’s inference is clear: if we vote for change and a true conservative in Chris McDaniel, we won’t have any roads, public buildings, police officers, military bases, or schools to attend. We will immediately revert to the 18th century I suppose.
To Mr. Perry’s analysis I say “hogwash!” Did we not have adequate police, roads, military bases, and universities before Thad Cochran came along? Is it only from Washington that good things come? Can Mississippians not function on their own? We true conservatives believe in the people, not the government, and we have history on our side. So let us look a little deeper at Mr. Cochran’s true fiscal record, and not just the sweet little cherries Mr. Perry presents us with.
Though his defenders still try to paint him as a conservative, Thad Cochran is no conservative. His American Conservative Union rating has been as low as 52, reaching that point in 2012, consistently among the lowest in the Southern states. He has been a spend-a-holic throughout his 40-year career in Washington. He is well known as the “King of Pork” on Capitol Hill and has received numerous citations as “Porker of the Month” by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), an organization that tracks government excess. Cochran’s pork barrel spending has gotten so bad that CAGW has created a “Thad the Impaler Award,” which he was granted in 2010 for 240 earmarks totaling $490 million in pork that year, the highest dollar amount of any member of Congress, a distinction he has held numerous times. Among Cochran’s gems in 2010: Nearly $5 million for reactive skin decontamination lotion, $1.6 million for dietary supplements research, and $850,000 for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a government grant that seems to contradict both innovation and entrepreneurship. Since 2008 Senator Cochran has earmarked over $2 billion in pork.
And to this his supporters heartily approve, as does Senator Cochran himself, telling the press, “I don’t have any guilt trips” about it. So it’s good to know that he has no guilty feelings about strapping our children and grandchildren, and their grandchildren, with massive federal debts of over $17 trillion and unfunded liabilities that run nearly $100 trillion. But he should be, for he is as guilty as any liberal Democrat. When Cochran got to Congress in 1973, the national debt stood at $485 billion in today’s dollars. Since then, it has exploded, and Senator Cochran has made no effort to get America’s fiscal house in order or reform our out of control entitlements that will eventually send us over the real fiscal cliff.
Senator Cochran has been consistent in his determination to spend money and prevent conservatives from trying to reign in big government for the last four decades. He has voted to raise the debt ceiling 10 times, voted in favor of every congressional pay raise and against every bill to give the President a line-item veto – 1987, 1989, 1992, 1993 – a new power that would allow the President to reject single budget items, including Cochran’s numerous pork projects, like his recent appropriation of $450,000 to the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, a 20-year-old program even President Obama called inefficient and redundant. Perhaps it is a worthy organization but is it really worth taking that money out of the pockets of working Mississippians to send to Auburn, New York?
The Republican Thad Cochran has been in Washington since January 1973, serving from Nixon to Obama, and beyond if he has his way. His tenure included the great Era of Reagan, which I am sure he and his backers will attempt to embrace throughout the coming campaign. But make no mistake, Thad Cochran was no foot soldier in Ronald Reagan’s conservative army. And never has been. In fact, when he arrived in the US Senate in January 1979, after six years in the US House, he showed his true colors as a tax-and-spend liberal during the Carter administration. He voted for Carter’s Department of Education, to pacify the teacher’s union, the Food Stamp program, backed a windfall profits tax, and voted against an income tax cut. He voted in favor of Carter’s Energy Mobilization Board, a special panel with the power to overrule any local, state, or federal law that hindered the implementation of a prioritized energy project. He has also supported the Council on Wage and Price Stability, a board authorized to monitor and combat inflation, rather than allowing the free market to work. He consistently voted against budget targets, or caps on federal spending, during the 1970s.
President Reagan arrived in 1981 and ushered in an era of conservatism. Along with his supporters in Congress, he worked tirelessly throughout his eight years in the White House to gain control of the growing federal budget. Senator Cochran did not support any of Reagan’s efforts to cut spending and shrink the government but remained a Big Government Republican.
In the fall of 1981 conservatives sought to implement small cuts to three Cabinet departments – a 5 percent cut at the Interior Department, 2.6 percent at Agriculture, and 4 percent for Transportation. Cochran opposed all three bills. In 1982 he voted with liberal Democrats to increase the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion to keep the pork flowing. The next year he voted for a $25 billion bailout for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and against an amendment to freeze domestic spending and increase funding for defense, as part of the Reagan Buildup, by 7.5 percent. He also voted against a bi-partisan effort to give President Reagan the power to impound funds, of up to 20 percent, on various federal programs if Congress failed to meet previously agreed upon deficit targets. He also voted in favor of the 1983 Social Security bailout bill that included $100 billion in new Social Security taxes. In 1984 he voted against an amendment to cut federal spending across the board by 10 percent.
In 1985 Bob Dole introduced a bill that would set budget targets, eliminate more than a dozen federal programs, and allow defense spending to be indexed to inflation. Senator Cochran voted to kill it. The next year Cochran supported an increase of over $1 billion for farm programs even though the appropriation would push federal spending over the budget limits set by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act, which he supported the previous year. Later in 1986 he supported a budget resolution that increased spending and created a budget deficit of $144 billion (in 1986 dollars). The eventual deficit that year was over $200 billion, a time when the federal budget was less than $1 trillion.
Throughout Reagan’s tenure, liberals in Congress kept trying to bust the budget caps and keep on spending, and Cochran was with them all the way. In 1987 they passed an $88 billion pork-filled highway bill that President Reagan immediately vetoed. Cochran joined the big spenders on Capitol Hill in voting to override the veto. That same year he supported a $1 billion spending bill to assist the homeless and voted to kill an amendment by Phil Gramm that would eliminate tax hikes in the budget reconciliation bill and freeze all federal spending at 1987 levels. Despite all the obstruction, Democrats still argue how Reagan and the Republicans ran up the debt in the 1980s, but in reality it was the Left, along with the help of liberal Republicans like Thad Cochran.
During George H. W. Bush’s one term as President, Cochran supported the disastrous October 1990 budget compromise that included the largest tax hike in American history up to that time. He also voted that year to increase spending for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education by $11.5 billion more than President Bush sought. In July 1991 he voted against a budget freeze but voted in favor of a congressional pay raise of nearly $24,000 per member. So within a year, Senator Cochran greatly hiked the taxes on working Mississippians, then allocated himself a nice pay raise. Later that decade, when conservatives attempted to stop President Clinton’s spending spree, Cochran voted against another attempt to freeze federal spending.
More recently, Cochran has opposed every effort to ban earmarks proposed by Tea Party Conservatives in Congress and voted to support the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” a ridiculous appropriation of $400 million to construct a bridge to an island in Alaska with just 50 residents, even though it had a working ferry system. As has often been pointed out, the government could have bought each resident a $1 million yacht and saved $350 million. He supported George W. Bush’s Medicare expansion in 2003 that added billions to the deficit and trillions to our growing unfunded liabilities. In 2005 he voted yet again to stop the imposition of spending caps. In 2008 he voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage companies, to the tune of $187 billion. Twice in 2013 he voted to continue Obamacare funding – in March he supported a Obama-supported continuing resolution and in September he voted to invoke cloture and stop debate on a bill that funded the healthcare law, even though conservatives like Texas Senator Ted Cruz were trying to stop it. Senator Cochran was nowhere to be found in that important fight.
This year, Cochran’s votes have been simply atrocious. He voted to kill an amendment by Mike Lee to cut spending by just .49 percent across the board. In other words, Senator Cochran could not even agree to reduce the budget by less than one-half of one percent. He also voted against Rand Paul’s budget plan that would have eliminated four Cabinet agencies, replaced the tax code with a flat tax, reformed entitlements, and balanced the budget in five years. For these votes, Freedom Works, an organization devoted to liberty, awarded him a score of 29 out of 100, and a lifetime score of just 57.
Aside from spending money, Senator Cochran has not been a solid conservative in other areas of fiscal policy. In addition to his earlier support of tax hikes in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, he refused to support a suspension of the gas tax in the summer of 2000, a measure that would have taken some pressure off working families, and did so again in 2008. In 2003 he was against a repeal of the death tax, a socialistic, confiscatory duty that allows the federal government to heavily tax estates by as much as 55 percent. The next year, he refused to join conservatives in support of a bill to prohibit Internet taxation. In 2013, Cochran voted for the fiscal cliff tax hike that President Obama wanted, raising a host of tax rates on working Americans.
Senator Cochran’s record throughout his long career in the halls of Congress does not rise to the level of the principled, limited government conservative his supporters will attempt to mold him. Our state and nation faces difficult and perilous times. We have unsustainable spending, trillions in debt, and entitlement programs racing toward bankruptcy. It’s time for Mississippi conservatives to decide if Thad Cochran really represents them and their principles. For if we do not take a stand now it is our children and grandchildren who will have to pay the price for our mistakes. Let us not make another one in 2014.
Laurel Leader Call, Saturday, November 2, 2013