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Congress for Sale
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Apparently making his pitch for the majority leader's position in the House, John Boehner has the following to say in a WSJ op/ed:
The Republican agenda is at risk because of a growing perception that Congress is for sale. The guilty plea of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for bribery, the guilty pleas of scam artists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, and rumors of future indictments, have all cast a pall over the public perception of the House of Representatives and corroded the public trust in our collective commitment to principle.
It's actually more than a perception, indeed, it has become accepted as a fact that the Congress (not just the House) is corrupt. As someone said, you can't have corrupting lobbyists without corruptable congressmen.
We can't allow this to happen. Republicans need to prove to voters that our policies come directly from our principles. To rebuild trust in the institution and our commitment to governing, we need to recognize that most of the current ethical problems arise from one basic fact: Government is too big and controls too much money. If you want to dismantle the culture that produced an Abramoff or a Scanlon, you need to reform how Congress exerts power.
Bingo. Or said another way, the way to get rid of the corruption is to radically change the way Congress does business, to such an extent that the temptation is no longer available to those who would be willingly corrupted by it.

Boener's suggestions?
We must start by addressing the growing practice of unauthorized earmarks—language in spending bills that directs federal dollars to private entities for projects that are not tied to an existing federal program or purpose. The public knows the practice better by a different name—pork-barreling. Unauthorized earmarks squander taxpayer dollars and lack transparency. They feed public cynicism. They've been a driving force in the ongoing growth of our already gargantuan federal government, and a major factor in government's increasing detachment from the priorities of individual Americans. Earmarks have also fueled the growth of the lobbying industry. Entire firms have been built around the practice. As more entities circumvent the normal competitive process, confidence in the system erodes, encouraging others to take the same shortcuts.

Many pork-barrel provisions are inserted into legislation at the last minute to ensure passage, and relatively few members get a chance to see them before actually voting. My Republican colleague, Jeff Flake of Arizona, has bold ideas to solve this problem. He proposes that the earmarking process be transparent: All earmarks should be included in the actual text of legislation, so members can see them before they vote. He believes, as I do, that this would make it much harder to adopt earmarks that can't be substantively justified, while also allowing earmarks that are legitimate. I think Mr. Flake is off to a strong start, and I support his efforts.

I'd like to go even further, though. Last week, in a letter to David Dreier, the House Rules Committee chairman and the speaker's point man on lobbying reform, I called for a ban on earmarks that serve lobbying interests at the expense of the public interest. We need to establish some clear standards by which worthy projects can be distinguished from worthless pork, so that pork projects can be halted in their tracks as soon as they are identified. For example, earmarks should meet the specific purpose of the authorizing statute. They should not give a private entity a competitive edge unless it is in the immediate national security interest of the country. They should not be a substitute for state and local fiscal responsibility. They should be used sparingly, and ideally, they should be a one-time appropriation for a specific national need.
Were they reading QandO? Possibly as most of this is precisely what Jon suggested in an October article last year.
A solution—something more permanent than Porkbusting and temporary budget cuts—is three-fold: (1) transparency, (2) a price mechanism, and (3) consequences.
While not exactly what Jon suggested, implementation of Boehner's plan would indeed be a step in the right direction. So Boehner is making pork, which is a relatively small part of the problem, a priority:
My self-imposed "pork-free diet" has, to this point, been limited to a personal decision. For 15 years, I've abstained from pork and steered clear of special-interest earmarks. However, a personal crusade is no longer enough. We need to change the way Congress itself does business. This will require a huge change in the congressional culture, the type of change that can only be successfully driven from the leadership level.

Someone needs to lead this effort as our next majority leader—someone with a demonstrated independence from the pork-barrel process, someone with experience managing large legislative projects and keeping members focused on a mission.
Fine. But that's hardly the crux of the problem as I see it. He gets to that, however:
We also need to look at the credibility of the lobbying industry. Literally anyone can be a lobbyist. We need clearer ethical standards and greater transparency about their campaign contributions—if we're going to continue to allow such contributions at all—and we need to reform the laws governing so-called 527 organizations. Common-sense changes such as these, coupled with earmark reform in Congress, will increase public confidence and make it more difficult for inappropriate relationships to be built between legislators and lobbyists.

As long as the federal government is as big and powerful as it is, there will be corrupt lobbyists like Jack Abramoff. The best way to deal with influence peddling in Washington is to move more power out of the Beltway and back to states and communities. We can start by putting Congress on a lower-pork diet and fixing the broken system we have today.
No. The way to fix the broken system is to completely change the system. Lobbyists are influence buyers and the mechanism is money and perks such as gifts, travel and entertainment. The way to an incorruptable Congress isn't by lowering the value of gifts, travel and entertainment that Congressmen can accept, it is by banning them.

There is no particular reason why it is necessary that a part of a Congressman's job must involve any of those things. His or her job is to represent the people of their district in the national government and to do so by keeping them uppermost in the execution of that job. Yes, lobbyists should have access, but no more access than Mr. or Mrs. Smith from the Congressman's home district. A congressman should be weighing ideas and issues effecting his consituency, not who can provide him or her with the most lavish entertainment and the most money for the reelection campaign. Distractions provided by powerful and wealthy lobbyists eventually pervert that purpose and tend toward a climate of influence peddling which we're now seeing laid bare.

Yes, Boehner's headed in the right direction and has articulated some good ideas, but the system he's concerned about needs a much more radical overhaul than that which he is proposing. Republicans have the opportunity to make a positive out of a negative if they can find the spine to do so. Otherwise, they may suffer the electoral consequenses of their obvious corruption.

UPDATE: Rep. Shaddeg's answers to questions by Hugh Hewitt on specific questions concerning earmarks, etc. (the short version. Go to Radio Blogger to see the full answers from the transcript):
HH: From Mark Tapscott, my colleague in the blogging business at the Heritage Foundation, comes some questions. Will you introduce and support a proposal to require all earmarks be identified by the name of the requesting member?

JS: I think my answer to that question is yes. I haven't given...I have not formed by specific earmark proposal, but we cannot have earmarks put in where you do now know who they benefit, or where you do not know why they're being done, and where they can't be debated.

[...]

HH: Would you support, again a Tapscott question, a proposal to require legislation to be posted on the internet, say 72 hours prior to a vote, so that the American public can see what's in there?

JS: Absolutely, absent, I supposed, the closing days of the session, where you might have to have a limited exemption to that. We have a rule that we waive all the time, that requires a 3-day holdover period before a measure can be voted upon.
(HT: Keith Mitchell)

UPDATE II: N.Z. Bear has a page up in which questions are being submitted by bloggers to be answered by the three candidates for the House majority position. He's also invited all three candidates to do a conference call with blogger to cover those and other questions. Go look at the questions, vote and/or submit your own. As someone said, this may be as good a chance ever to demonstrate the ability of blogs to be players in national politics.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Hurricane Katrina was an example where local Democratic party officials left New Orleans’ citizens behind. In order to make that case stick, the Repubs need to do a little house-cleaning first.

If the GOP does this right, they will be seen as the only party willing to address official corruption within its ranks, and will leave the party in a better position to shine the light on Democratic party corruption in Congress and the states’ governments.

Raising my second cup of coffee - here’s to a Shaddeg win, and the hope that the repub’s will coordinate an emphasis on fiscal restraint and official corruption as the ’06 election nears.

That’ll peel the DLC’er’s away from the small "c" communists in the core of the Democratic party.
-Steve

 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Yes. Here’s to Shadegg, and what Steve said.

Make it painfully clear the Democrats have no reason to hang on.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
I would hope, even the committed (or commitable ;) ) Libertarians among us, could push for a pro-accountablility candidate for the Republican Majority Leader.

So, even if you aren’t for the Republican Party, you should still be for those people in the party who are for government accountablility. And your call/email to Republican politicians in your own state would help move things towards that.

You don’t have to be a member of the party to push the party in a better direction.
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Absolutely Keith ... that’s the point of signing the petition cited here. That is absolutely the route to smaller and less intrusive government as well as rooting out corruption.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
heh, that’s what I get for missing a day of blogging...

Let me say I applaud and whole heartedly support the effort. Practical solutions and consensus are what’s needed.

I certainly wasn’t lumping you, Jon or Dale into the "committed Libertarian" group, seing as how you tend to call yourselves neolibertarian. As I understand it, the goals may be the same, and the methods are what distinguishes the two groups.
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
As long as the federal government is as big and powerful as it is, there will be corrupt lobbyists like Jack Abramoff. The best way to deal with influence peddling in Washington is to move more power out of the Beltway and back to states and communities. We can start by putting Congress on a lower-pork diet and fixing the broken system we have today.
No. The way to fix the broken system is to completely change the system. Lobbyists are influence buyers and the mechanism is money and perks such as gifts, travel and entertainment. The way to an incorruptable Congress isn’t by lowering the value of gifts, travel and entertainment that Congressmen can accept, it is by banning them.
It seems to me that you’re both right. Shadegg most certainly identifies the cause of the problem in that central government leaders have entirely too much power and influence over our daily lives. A devolution of power back to the States and local communities would dispel the incentive or ability to buy influence. In other words, the lobbyists would have little to buy if the politicians have little to sell.

I also agree with your assertion that a way to fix the "broken system" may include banning gifts altogether, but I suspect that the favors and such will continue to abound as long as the politicians have power to sell, they’ll just be more disguised and less easily sourced. Wasn’t that the lesson of the McCain-Feingold abomination?
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://
I also agree with your assertion that a way to fix the "broken system" may include banning gifts altogether, but I suspect that the favors and such will continue to abound as long as the politicians have power to sell, they’ll just be more disguised and less easily sourced. Wasn’t that the lesson of the McCain-Feingold abomination?

To a point Michael, yes. But in my estimation, MF was aimed at "fixing" a system which was perceived to be broken. I’m not advocating a fix. I’m advocating that the whole system be chucked.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that we won’t still find corruption and corrupt congressmen. But it would be harder to do and therefore less likely to be present. A policy of "no gifts, no travel, no entertainment" allows little wiggle room when one is found having accepted them.

Will lobbyists attempt to find other ways to influence Congress? Of course. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
"A devolution of power back to the States and local communities would dispel the incentive or ability to buy influence."

Well, it would increase the time and effort, possibly the money, required to buy the same level of influence.

I’m going to take the opportunity to make a blatant plug for the idea of banning consecutive terms with no limit on time served. No one has the benefit of incumbency, and good legislators can run on a good record.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Why even consider "petitioning" the existing duoply who has perverted our "Democracy" into the best that lobbyist money can buy?
Why not? What do we have to loose by trying?

And, because not all Republicans or Democrats have been perverted...
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://

 
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