Today, CCAGW sent a letter up to the Hill supporting legislation which has been introduced in both the Senate and House to implement new, tougher disclosure and transparency rules for the congressional earmarking process. Make no mistake, CAGW favors outright elimination of the process, but, in the interim, taxpayers need to get eyes on more aspects of that corruptive process and taxpayers need to force Congress to do what it has so far refused to do, which is create an easily searchable database so taxpayers can follow the money.
In the Senate, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) have introduced S. 3335. In the House, Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), have offered the companion bill, H.R. 5258.
CAGW has a 20-year track record of ferreting out and exposing wasteful congressional earmarks, and we advocate the elimination of the practice altogether, but we aggressively support the adoption of these new transparency and accountability rules in the interim.
The Earmark Transparency Act of 2010 would create an online, searchable, user-friendly database that would allow taxpayers to view all earmark requests in a centralized location. The database will provide details on projects, including amount of the initial request, amount approved by the committee, amount approved for final legislation, sponsor name, sponsor state or district, project name and other relevant information.
The attraction of earmarking is that it still is, by and large, a secretive process. Members like it for that reason; it’s like giving members of Congress a bag full of what they used to call unaccountable “walking around money” in the old days. Spending giveaways that greased the skids for the odious healthcare reform bill (the Louisiana Purchase, the Cornhusker Kickback, the carveouts for Michigan and Florida). Earmarks, which account for an infinitesimal portion of overrall federal spending in and of themselves, are much more valuable as the legislative enablers of some of the most dysfunctional, wasteful, and expansive spending bills in history.
Taxpayers often hear from their elected officials that earmarks are good and bring back federal dollars to their district. That rhetorical meme ignores the basic fact that earmarks are awarded outside of the normal budget process, without competition, and often based on political power. A comprehensive database would allow taxpayers to see exactly how earmarks are awarded, where their hard-earned dollars are being spent, and allow them to make their own judgments about the merits of the earmarks being requested on their behalf.
CAGW identified 9,129 earmarks worth $16.5 billion in the 2010 Congressional Pig Book. Despite new rules that require members to post earmark requests on their websites, CAGW still identified 81 anonymous earmarks worth $6.5 billion. It is time lawmakers take full responsibility for their profligate behavior. Making the earmarking process more transparent will be a step in the right direction toward increasing accountability and minimizing reckless spending.
The recent House Republican earmark moratorium and Democratic-led ban on for-profit earmarks was meant to not only to give taxpayers a break, but to give members of Congress time to reform the process. But those moves do not have the force of law and there have already been several defections on both the Republican and Democratic side of the aisle.
The stunning defeat of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.) indicates that taxpayers all over the country are catching on to the fact that pork-barreling members of Congress, especially ethically-challenged politicians like Mollohan, have used their constituents as excuses to rob the U.S. Treasury for political gain and not for the greater good. The taxpayers in Mollohan’s district, who were useful puppets when he wanted to rationalize taking $55.2 million worth of self-serving earmarks, evidently woke up and decided they didn’t want to be his dupes anymore.
From the Washington Post:
A recent Washington Post/ABC poll showed that less than one in three people said they plan to vote to re-elect their member of Congress — numbers that haven’t been seen in Post/ABC data since the Republican wave election of 1994.
Just how bad it has gotten for incumbents will be tested in a serious way next Tuesday when Democratic Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) attempt to fend off serious primary challenges.