- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Sen. John McCain yesterday lashed out at fellow Republicans for wasting taxpayers’ money, blaming last November’s congressional losses on their failure to control federal spending and pledging to end pork-barrel politics if he is elected president.

The Arizona Republican, a longtime critic of congressional “earmarks” that set aside billions of tax dollars for projects in lawmakers’ home districts, said Republicans had strayed far from the 1994 mandate that swept them to power on Capitol Hill and even further from the ideals set by President Reagan.

“When Republicans won a majority in Congress, we did so with the promise to restore to Americans their freedom and resources that had been wasted extravagantly, to mind our accounts as carefully as American families minded theirs, to govern less but govern better,” the Republican candidate said in a speech to the Memphis Economic Forum.

“We forgot who we were: tightfisted stewards of the federal treasury who keep our priorities straight. We asked Americans to make us the governing party, and we rewarded them by becoming the party of government,” he said.

Republicans paid a high price by straying from the ideals set out in the “Contract with America” by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“I still believe our failure to control spending is what cost us the election, and it’s costing us the confidence of the American people and mortgaging our children’s futures. The fact that we did not restrain spending is a black mark on our party and our legacy for the future,” Mr. McCain said afterward in answer to a question from The Washington Times.

Standing in front of a podium and reading his speech from a large screen more than 50 feet away, Mr. McCain ticked off the most egregious violations of pork-barrel spending as he ripped the Democrats’ attempt to lard the emergency war-spending bill still deadlocked in Congress.

“They took the lid off the pork barrel and said to wavering members ‘help yourself, there’s plenty more where that came from.’ They gave $7 million to research water quality on pig farms in Missouri, $24 million to sugar-beet farmers, $74 million for peanut storage, $95 million to dairy producers and nearly $400 million for highway projects, two years after we passed a $244 billion highway bill,” he said.

As club members dined on sirloin strips, salad and fruit at the local Holiday Inn, Mr. McCain said that government spending adjusted for inflation has increased by $2,500 “for every man, woman and child in the country” since the days of Mr. Reagan.

“Wasteful spending has gone from irresponsible to indefensible,” he said. “I promise, if I’m elected president, I won’t let Congress waste any more money on programs that aren’t reviewed or that need to be reformed or abolished or on projects that serve no greater purpose than to deceive voters into re-electing their local congressman.”

In his first major economic speech since announcing his run for the presidency, Mr. McCain said he would extend President Bush’s tax cuts and vowed to take on the vexing problems of reforming Social Security and Medicare. He also criticized what he called “the 1950s” unemployment insurance system, pledging to change it to a retraining and education program.

But he returned often to pork-barrel politics, even rejecting a recent demand by the president to cut roughly $20 billion in earmarks in half next year.

“Cutting earmarks in half is like saying you want to get rid of half the drug dealers. Earmarks have led to corruption; that’s why we have former members of Congress in jail. And it’s disgraceful,” he said.

A day before national tax-filing day, he also said a commission should study how best to overhaul the “Byzantine code” that costs taxpayers “$140 billion in compliance and preparation costs each year $1,000 for every American family.”

“Our job is to simplify the tax code as much as possible and have a debate on whether it should be fairer, or flat, or whatever it is. Estonia, a brand-new little country, they have a 22 percent tax, period. End of story. You can file your tax return on the Internet. That sounds very attractive to a lot of people,” he said in a short question-and-answer session after his speech.

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