When President Obama's drug czar declared an end to the war on drugs, Republicans were apparently listening closely.
House GOP leadership now wants to cash in the peace dividend.
Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) released a set of proposed budget cuts Thursday that included trimming $220 million from drug war spending over the next five years.
The duo propose eliminating the National Drug Intelligence Center, saving $44 million the first year and $220 million over five years, they say.
The NDIC "has been the subject of significant public debate recently because it unnecessarily duplicates the work of other agencies and its justification seems to have more to do with its powerful patron than its benefits to the taxpayer," the leadership team offers.
The NDIC referred a call to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond.
The Republicans don't spell out just who that patron might be, but let's piece it together: the center is located in Johnstown, a rural piece of Pennsylvania that may seem an odd place for a drug intelligence center. The area also happens to be represented by Democrat Jack Murtha, an appropriations subcommittee chairman who directs millions each year to government projects in his district. Currently at the center of a pay-for-pork scandal, Murtha is favorite target of Republicans and a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
He's also an unabashed supporter of the earmark process and isn't backing down on the NDIC.
"I don't want to point out the obvious here, but for the past few years Republican's were opposed to the NDIC because it wasn't funded in the President's budget, yet this year they are opposed to the NDIC because the President recommended funding it. Make up your mind," said Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey. "What gets lost in this Republican flip-flop distraction is the actual substance to their arguments, and that's because they have none. I don't think anyone is shocked to learn that Republicans haven't a clue what they are talking about when it comes to the NDIC."
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel dismissed the response. "Whether or not NDIC is included in the President's budget, it is widely regarded as a pointless and duplicative waste of the taxpayers' money. That having been said, it is surprising that a President who has promised earmark reform -- though that promise has largely been ignored in the face of squeals from Congressional Democrats -- would now embrace such a notorious earmark from Speaker's Pelosi's prince of pork."
Perhaps the GOP objection to the NDIC is also ideological. It is a conservative mantra that health care decisions should be the private domain of doctors and patients. A top NDIC priority: getting between the doctor-patient relationship by going after providers who prescribe medication at levels it considers unacceptable.
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, due out later this month