01/17/05 — Broad view: Needs of all should trump the needs of a district

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Broad view: Needs of all should trump the needs of a district

Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis recently circulated a flier around the Capitol that showed Uncle Sam blown up to obesity. Under the drawing was a caption that said: “Uncle Sam needs a diet.”

He does, and Lewis is in the very place to help put him on one and make sure he sticks to it. Lewis has been elected chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

His pledge to help get the federal government’s spending under control sounds encouraging. But there is a problem. A private lobbying organization called Citizens Against Government Waste notes that government overspending has not always been Lewis’s main concern.

As chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, according to the stop-the-waste group, Lewis helped get $13.6 million worth of pork projects for his home state of California in the 2004 defense spending bill.

After obtaining about $8 million in pork two years earlier, Lewis said, “I feel I should play a significant role in trying to get back every dollar I can for the taxpayers I represent.”

When a politician says “the taxpayers I represent,” he usually is talking about the voters in his own district.

That attitude is a part of the reason that Uncle Sam is so bloated. A congressman will say he wants to cut spending, yet when it comes to his own district he is the very epitome of generosity.

Like some school board members and county commissioners here at home, the congressmen are fixed on their own districts instead of the best interests of the people as a whole.

It is not supposed to work that way. Even though most of our political leaders are elected from districts, they are obliged to represent us all.

A congressman, for instance, is supposed to be able to explain to his constituents why a given matter must be considered from the perspective of the entire country and not just what was best for his district.

It is not easy. It is much simpler, and maybe more politically effective, to slather federal money around the district rather than explain to the voters the ills of overspending.

That is where real leadership is needed, the kind that is required by a representative republic like ours.

We will see whether Congressman Lewis has the courage to exercise it.

Published in Editorials on January 17, 2005 12:09 PM