Endangered GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on Friday launched a new attack on rival Newt Gingrich's record in Congress, with his surrogates calling Gingrich the "granddaddy of earmarks."
On a conference call with reporters, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a leader in the GOP effort to fight wasteful earmarked spending on Capitol Hill, said he was astounded by the number of earmarks Gingrich had allowed to go through on bills when he was House speaker. Borrowing a line from former candidate Rick Perry, who ended his campaign on Thursday, Flake called Gingrich the "granddaddy of earmarks," and said that earmarked spending "exploded" during Gingrich's speakership from 1995 to 1999. "Members [of Congress] considered earmarks their entitlement," he said.
Congressional earmarks, which are spending provisions put into bills by lawmakers to benefit their districts or states, have been a touchstone issue for tea party activists in the debate over shrinking the debt and reducing the reach of the federal government.
Joining Flake in the call on Romney's behalf were two other House Republicans, Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and John Campbell of California. None of the three Romney surrogates served alongside Gingrich in the House, but they said they felt qualified to comment on the former speaker's lasting legacy.
Campbell said that Gingrich's tenure "has been a significant part of why the budget has blown up."
Said Chaffetz: "We didn't create this mess but we're here to clean it up."
Chaffetz also noted that Romney has 64 endorsements from senators and House members, while Newt only has 13. He called the support for Romney in Congress "overwhelming."