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Don Young Embodies What's Wrong With the GOP

Opinion Journal, Page A13, June 6, 2008 - By Pat Toomey

Today, the Club for Growth Political Action Committee endorses Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in his bid to unseat Republican Rep. Don Young in the state's August primary.

The reason for the endorsement is simple. Mr. Parnell is a solid conservative who led the fight for lower taxes and spending in the state legislature, and joined Gov. Sarah Palin in pushing for reform in the state. The man he is hoping to replace isn't economically conservative in the least. Mr. Young is actually a poster child for what has gone wrong with the Republican Party in Washington.

Over his 35 years in Congress, Mr. Young made himself into the most powerful Republican on the House Transportation Committee. But instead of using his power to steer Republicans down a principled, conservative track, he helped derail the GOP train in 2006.

Mr. Young spends taxpayer money so wastefully he could make a liberal Democrat blush. As chairman of the Transportation Committee (from 2001 to 2007), Mr. Young was directly responsible for one of the biggest boondoggles of the Republican majority – the 2005 highway bill. With a price tag of $296 billion, the highway bill contained a record 6,371 pork projects.
One of those projects was the $223 million Bridge to Nowhere, inserted by Mr. Young. The notorious bridge was meant to connect the city of Ketchikan, Alaska – population 8,000 – to an airport on Gravina Island – population 50. Instead, it came to symbolize Republican excess, and helped cost the GOP its majority.

But the bridge isn't Mr. Young's only earmark to draw negative attention. It seems the veteran lawmaker inserted a $10 million earmark into the 2006 transportation bill for a road project in Florida.

Of course, Florida is not exactly next door to Alaska, so more than a few people have wondered why Mr. Young pushed to fund the pork-barrel project. Among those inquiring into the matter is the Justice Department, which is looking at the fact that a Florida real estate developer, Daniel J. Aronoff, who stands to benefit from the federal earmark, has raised some $40,000 for Mr. Young's campaign coffers.

It's not just on spending that Mr. Young abandons Republican principles. Recently, he has joined with Democrats in voting to increase the minimum wage, increase income taxes on top earners, and to pass a bloated farm bill. Mr. Young also voted for "card check," which would allow unions to organize without holding secret ballot elections.

He has a history of voting against important free-trade agreements and, just a couple of weeks ago, proposed a $1 per-gallon tax increase on gasoline. He must not have had to fill up at the pump lately.

During his time in Congress, Mr. Young has come to represent the worst of a Republican Party that became too comfortable in power. In 1995, a Republican majority passed a budget that actually cut spending. Today, only 40 Republicans out of 248 GOP senators and representatives have sworn off earmarks, despite overwhelming support for earmark reform among the party's base and the general public.

Just 12 years ago, the Republican Caucus, including Mr. Young, voted for a bill to phase out farm subsidies. Three weeks ago, Mr. Young and many of those same members voted for a farm bill that exemplifies everything the GOP once stood against. Somewhere between then and now, many congressional Republicans abandoned their former commitment to limited government, fiscal discipline and economic freedom.

There is no question that the Republican Party is in trouble. Faced with staggering losses in 2006 and what might be an even worse election cycle this year, GOP congressmen are finally acknowledging the dismal state of the Republican brand. What are they doing about it?
Not much. The reason is that Mr. Young and many other members are not willing to change. They don't want to give up their pork projects, their subsidies and their favorite big-government programs. And those members with the temerity to challenge the broken system are berated as disloyal and threatened.

"Those who bite me will be bitten back," Mr. Young warned New Jersey's Republican Rep. Scott Garrett last July. Mr. Garrett had tried to remove a $34 million earmark inserted into an appropriations bill by Mr. Young.

The Alaska primary represents a crossroads for Republicans. Will party leaders line up behind Mr. Young, even as the Justice Department is looking into his earmarks? Or will they tell him they cannot support a member who has flagrantly disrespected taxpayers and abandoned Republican principles?

If Republicans want to start winning again they need to return to the principles of fiscal responsibility and limited government that won them control of Congress in 1994. This is no easy task. But the GOP can start by showing Mr. Young the door.

Mr. Toomey, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, is the president of the Club for Growth.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

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