POLITICS
04/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dems Target GOP Congressman's Paper Trail Of Pork

When the ground shifts, politicians still standing often are left to explain positions that made plenty of sense on the old terrain but are now more controversial.

Take the case of Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

His stance on earmarks has evolved since he came to Congress. With a paper trail of earmarks to his name, Democrats can now beat him up for his current, more reticent stance toward the funding requests.

"A person can't learn as they go?" McCarthy begged of his local paper when the Democrats came after him.

"They like to hit me," McCarthy told the Huffington Post. "I understand. It's all fair in love and war."

It's the kind of shot that comes with the earmark debate. No one likes pork, but who's against money for a children's hospital downtown?

"Kevin McCarthy says the system's broken and that's why he won't make project funding requests for his constituents. But he didn't have any problem making funding requests last year under the very same system," says Andrew Stone of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

McCarthy found himself in Democrats' sights when he told his local paper that he wouldn't be taking any earmarks, explaining, "If everyone else is robbing a bank, should I rob a bank?"

The paper, with the help of Democrats, quickly pointed out that he'd been for the metaphorical bank robbery before he was against it. "The story here is pretty clear. McCarthy isn't just being contradictory -- he's being hypocritical -- and it's his constituents that are paying the price," says Stone.

As the political cost of earmarks rose, fewer members on both sides of the aisle wanted to partake, but constituents at home still have projects they want funded. With Republicans hammering Democrats for "spending too much, taxing too much and borrowing too much," government spending could wind up an issue in the 2010 mid-term elections.

McCarthy threads the needle by saying that he wants reform, but that while the process is being reformed, he will be as transparent as possible and limit earmarks to defense requests. (He represents a military district.)

"This is where I am on earmarks," McCarthy explains to the Huffington Post. "When I first came here...my first year, I submitted earmarks, but what I did, I put them on my Web page. I think there were only 13 people that did."

Democrats hit him for that, too, saying that, no, lots of people did.

"The next year, I believe I was the coauthor of the Kingston-Wamp bill where I thought, let's do a temporary moratorium to find out reform because you had all these concerns on both sides of the aisle," says McCarthy. The Kingston-Wamp bill called for a temporary moratorium on earmarks while the problem was studied and a solution found.

"I'd like some type of a form. So what I did during my second year, I only did military -- I have two military bases in my district -- I only did military ones because I wanted to see what reform -- how do you deal with private business? How do you deal with no-bid contracts? So I thought the Kingston-Wamp puts a commission together to study it all. I thought that'd be the best process," he says.

Democrats, of course, point out that private military contractors are among the worst no-bid offenders.

"I was hopeful that our working group could come up with some form of some agreement, but they haven't come back to the caucus yet," he says. "I'm not opposed to all. I think there's a role for individuals. I have a certain criteria I'd like to live by."