The Slash-and-Burn House Republican Yahoo Caucus Rampages On

A group of lawmakers isn't interested in reducing the deficit or smart reductions to government -- it just wants to cut at all costs.
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Paul Broun, a Georgia representative, is a charter member of the House Yahoo Caucus, writes Norm Ornstein. (Associated Press)

Congress is filled with informal caucuses, from the Black Caucus to the Wine Caucus. I have a new one to propose, which might be among the largest: the Yahoo Caucus.

I actually began to think about this group last year, when Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. (yes, that is really his name), tried to eliminate the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey. ACS is a critically important source of data, by neighborhood, that businesses, manufacturers, retailers, home builders, and local governments use to make critical decisions. The survey provides data on local labor markets, traffic patterns, crime, income, poverty, and countless other areas. It tells businesses the best place to open plants, locate stores, or build homes; tells local governments where and when to place police and firefighting forces; informs emergency planners about disaster preparation; and on and on. Eliminating it would be colossally stupid and counterproductive -- but what placed Webster on the Yahoo list was his comment at the time: "This is not a scientific survey, it is a random survey." Ouch. Webster has been superseded by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who wants to eliminate all funding for all census surveys other than the big one every decade.

Another charter member of the caucus is Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who famously said last year that evolution, embryology, and the "big bang" theory were "lies straight from the pit of hell." Naturally, Broun is a senior member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A new member of the caucus is the chairman of that committee, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, a smart guy (intelligence is not the determining factor here) who this week floated the notion of having every science grant application at the National Science Foundation pass a key hurdle -- explaining how the idea would directly benefit the American people. This went beyond the previous efforts by many Yahoos to defund all political science grants to attack grants in every scientific area, social and hard sciences alike, and ultimately make the peer-review process, the linchpin of scientific enterprise, superfluous. Some of the most significant scientific research projects started as out-of-the-box, "wild-eyed ideas" whose immediate benefit to the broader public would not be evident for decades. What a great idea to have Congress vet the ideas instead of scientific peers.

But the largest class of Yahoos is the group of lawmakers ardently supporting the sequester now hitting a range of government policies and programs.

In the weeks leading up to the implementation of the sequester, a steady stream of House Republicans expressed their eagerness to bring it on. House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy said, "This may be the only way we get real spending cuts over the next year." Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said, "The sequester is going to happen." Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana said, "The consensus is that we want the sequester numbers to come in and finally see spending reduced in Washington." Rep. Scott DeJarlais of Tennessee said, "Sequestration needs to happen."

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Norm Ornstein is a correspondent for The Atlantic, a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  More

Ornstein served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also serves as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future; The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann; and, most recently the New York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann.

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