New Jersey governor Chris Christie delivered one of his trademark rants today, this time aimed at House Republicans who declined to hold a vote on an aid bill that would give his state lots of money to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The obvious point to make about this is that maybe it serves Christie right. He certainly has no reluctance to mock other people who want money, after all, so all that's happening here is a Republican governor getting a faceful of his own Republican medicine.
But Dave Weigel points out another interesting tidbit. The House Republican leadership apparently tried to pass the bill by engaging in a bit of vote-counting strategery, splitting the aid bill into two parts that they hoped could pass with two different majorities:
But instead of explaining this, Republicans allowed a familiar narrative — oh, the bill's full of pork and waste! — to creep out. Christie mocks the narrative in the single boldest part of this rant. The "pork," he points out, was $600 million in a total $60 billion package — one percent of the total. The Republicans who got angry about that, he says, are dupes. "Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we send and a little less time reading the talking points sent by their staff."
That's quite an ask. Making fun of waste in an omnibus bill is one of the GOP's most effective tactics. It was key to the strategy against the 2009 stimulus bill, making the "porkiest" parts of the bill famous, then forcing Democrats to denounce them, creating an impression of disarray and shame. And here Christie admits that it's a sort of cheap argument, not worth sinking legislation over.
Republicans rail endlessly about trivial expenditures, mostly as a way of avoiding putting their money where their mouths are. Over the past two weeks, reporters have routinely asked John Boehner for details about what cuts he wanted as part of a fiscal cliff deal, and he just as routinely refused to answer. Mitt Romney did the same thing over an entire campaign. The problem is that real cuts are politically unpopular, and they know it. So instead they ban earmarks, complain about foreign aid, give out silly awards for allegedly silly research projects, and kvetch about "waste, fraud, and abuse." That last item has been abused so often that it's little more than an inside-the-Beltway joke these days.
In any case, Christie is now being hoist by the same tea-party petard that's responsible for making him famous in the first place. Ditto for the House Republican leadership, which tried to figure out a clever way to pass the bill, but ended up a victim to the same kind of anti-pork nonsense that they usually save for Democrats. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of all this, I decided to look up "hoist by his own petard" for the first time today. I had always vaguely assumed that a petard was something like a belt or a pair of suspenders. But no: it's an explosive device. If you are hoist by your own petard, it means your bomb went off in your face and blew you skyward. You learn something new every day.