Sunday, October 08, 2000

Congressional bait and switch?

Chabot sticks to principles, suffers political consequences

        “Bait and switch” is illegal most places.

        Except in the Congress of the United States.

        There, it ranks behind only racquetball in the House gym as the favorite indoor sport.

        In those hallowed halls, among the inscriptions and portraits of the country's founders, the words of W.C. Fields, America's pre-eminent cinematic con man, should be carved in marble:

        Never give a sucker an even break; or smarten up a chump.

        Steve Chabot, Cincinnati's Republican congressman from the 1st Congressional District, is the undeserving victim of a particularly mean game of “bait and switch” played by the leadership of his own party.

        Last week, the House voted 348-69 to approve an $18 billion appropriations bill. It provided money for national parks, forest conservation and firefighting in
the West; money for the Smithsonian Institution; and, most importantly, a gift to Cincinnati of about $6 million in construction funds for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        The Freedom Center, once it is built on Cincinnati's riverfront, is likely to draw millions of visitors who are interested in learning about the bravery of escaped slaves crossing the Ohio River to freedom and about the heroism of those who sheltered them.

        Just about everybody likes the idea of having the center here, including Mr. Chabot, who co-sponsored the legislation authorizing federal funds for it.

        But he was one of the 69 who voted against the appropriations bill that contained the $6 million in Freedom Center funding, because he believed the bill was full of “useless pork” and had grown by 25 percent over the last appropriations bill.

        His Democratic opponent, John Cranley, immediately started in on Mr. Chabot, pointing out quite accurately that all of Mr. Chabot's Ohio colleagues, Republican and Democrat, voted for it, as did all of the GOP leaders in the House.

        Mr. Cranley said it was unthinkable that Mr. Chabot would allow his political ideology to get in the way of doing something good for his district.

        But Steve Chabot is a fellow who was elected to Congress in 1994, the year the GOP took over. When it came time to sign Newt Gingrich's “Contract with America,” Mr. Chabot elbowed his way to the front of the line to put his John Hancock on that now dust-covered document.

        After all, the contract called for less government, fewer taxes, less spending, less interference from pointy-headed bureaucrats in the business of American citizens.

        Steve Chabot believed all that; and, once he knocked off an incumbent Democrat and won election to a newly Republican Congress, he believed that, by gum, was exactly what Newt and the boys would do.


        Newt is long gone and the rest of the GOP leadership has since developed amnesia about any promises to reduce the size of government, happily cutting deals with the Clinton White House on spending bills that make true believers such as Mr. Chabot gag, Freedom Center or no Freedom Center.

        We suppose that's what you can expect when you let politicians talk you into signing a contract.

       Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 768-8388 or at


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