Leadership and the Culture of corruption Posted by: mcq
on Thursday, February 09, 2006
Jeff Flake, , gives us a look at how the appropriations business is supposed to look, and how it has morphed into the House becoming, as Jack Abramoff described it, the "earmark favor factory":
In Congress these days, you establish your priorities by getting money for them. When the carefully designed process of authorization, appropriation and oversight is adhered to, these policies and priorities are given a thorough vetting. But earmarking circumvents that cycle: the Appropriations Committee ensures that earmarks escape scrutiny by inserting them into conference reports, largely written behind closed doors.
Notice how it is supposed to work. Authorization, appropriation and oversight leading to a thorough vetting. Said another way, sunshine.
The earmark process, which, as I understand it, circumvents the rules of both the House and Senate. Earmarks are not authorized and oversight through a through vetting is not exercised. In other words, earmarks are done in the dark behind closed doors and simply show up in appropriation bills.
The salient question, and one I asked Sen. Coburn on our conference call is, where is the Congressional leadership on this? If, as Coburn and McCain claim, this is against the rules of the Senate, why in the world is leadership letting it happen, not to mention grow?
Earmarking — in which members of Congress secure federal dollars for pork-barrel projects by covertly attaching them to huge spending bills — has become the currency of corruption in Congress. It is not just the rising number of earmarks (more than 15,000 last year — up from around 1,200 a decade ago), or the dollar amount ($27 billion) that is troubling. More disturbing is that earmarks are used as inducements to get members to sign on to large spending measures.
The obvious reason there has been an explosive growth in earmarks in the last decade (a decade, may I remind readers, which has seen a majority Republican Congress) is because Congressional Republican leadership hasn't exerted one bit of leadership in this regard, as simple as enforcing existing rules concerning this sort of practice. Hastert and Frist have been AWOL.
Today Senator's John McCain and Tom Coburn are introducing a bill to address this problem. Yesterday, in a statement before the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. McCain outlined the basics of the bill:
Our bill, entitled the Pork-Barrel Reduction Act, would establish a new procedure under Rule XVI, modeled in part after the Byrd Rule, which would allow a 60-vote point of order to be raised against specific provisions that contain unauthorized appropriations, including earmarks, as well as unauthorized policy changes in appropriations bills and conference reports. Of importance is that successful points of order would not kill a conference report, but the targeted provisions would be deemed removed from the conference report, and the measure would be sent back for concurrence by the House.
To ensure that Members are given enough time to review appropriations bills, our proposal would also require that conference reports be available at least 48 hours prior to floor consideration. It also prohibits the consideration of a conference report if it includes matter outside the scope of conference.
Additionally, our bill includes the provisions of S. 1495, the Obligation of Funds Transparency Act, which Senator Corburn and I introduced last July, to prohibit Federal agencies from obligating funds for appropriations earmarks included only in congressional reports, which are unamendable.
To promote transparency, our bill requires that any earmarks included in a bill be disclosed fully in the bill’s accompanying report, along with the name of the Member who requested the earmark and its essential governmental purpose. Additionally, our bill would require recipients of federal dollars to disclose any amounts that the recipient expends on registered lobbyists.
A mechanism for removing unauthorized earmarks from appropriation bills and conference reports. Reports must be published and available 48 hours (I'd perfer 72) before a vote and can't contain appropriations for things outside the scope of the conference. Federal agencies can't be made to obligate funds for appropriations earmarks included only in unamendable congressional reports. Last, but not least, require full disclosure of any earmarks, their sponsor and "its essential governmental purpose" plus lobbying expenses.
McCain provides numerous examples of the problem, highlighting, in this case, earmarks in an unamendable Defense Conference Report:
From the Defense Conference Report for FY 2006
$500,000 to teach science to grade-school students in Pennsylvania;
$900,000 for “Memorial Day” out of the Army Operations and Maintenance account
$4.4 million for a Technology Center in Missouri
$1 million to an Civil War Center in Richmond, Virginia
$850,000 for an education center and public park in Des Moines, Iowa
$2 million for a public park in San Francisco
$500,000 for the Arctic Winter Games, an international athletic competition held this year in Alaska
$1.5 million for an aviation museum in Seattle
$1.35 million for an aviation museum in Hawaii
$1 million for a museum in Pennsylvania
$3 million for the museum at Fort Belvoir
$1.5 million for restoring the Battleship Texas
Funding for farm conservation
A provision protecting jobs in Hawaii and Alaska
None of this had a thing to do with the defense of our nation, yet none could be taken out of this unamendable Defense Conference Report. The McCain bill would change that.
What's apparent is Congressional leadership has failed to do its job over the last decade and we have the expected result. Corruption of the system. Corruption of some members. This bill is a step in the right direction and deserves support. But there is a lot more which needs to be done to completely change this culture of irresponsible spending in Congress. Hopefully, it will see the leadership of both the Senate and House get on board such reform instead of tacitly approving the obscene spending and willful circumvention of Congressional rules, concerning appropriations via earmarks.
It's my understanding that McCain and Coburn will introduce their bill today at 10:30 at a press conference. As a first step, this is something we should all be able to support.
The obvious reason there has been an explosive growth in earmarks in the last decade (a decade, may I remind readers, which has seen a majority Republican Congress) is because Congressional Republican leadership hasn’t exerted one bit of leadership in this regard, as simple as enforcing existing rules concerning this sort of practice.
During this period of explosive growth in earmarks who replaced Sen Byrd as the Chair of the appropriations committee? Yeah, I know it’s currently Sen Cochran.
I kind of feel sorry for you guys. You hold out hope that some members of the GOP actually care about reform. And considering how they are treating Tom Delay, I can totally see why you hold out hope. From the AP:
Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, forced to step down as the No. 2 Republican in the House, scored a soft landing Wednesday as GOP leaders rewarded him with a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.
DeLay, R-Texas, also claimed a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers. The subcommittee also has responsibility over NASA — a top priority for DeLay, since the Johnson Space Center is located in his Houston-area district.
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert engineered a backroom legislative maneuver to protect pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits, say witnesses to the pre-Christmas power play.
The language was tucked into a Defense Department appropriations bill at the last minute without the approval of members of a House-Senate conference committee, say several witnesses, including a top Republican staff member.
Since they are not obeying the rules, the solution is to make another rule? Seems an odd way to solve the problem to me. Isn’t there some way that any senator, not just a leader, can cause problems if a rule isn’t followed? If there isn’t, what is the point of making new ones?
Since they are not obeying the rules, the solution is to make another rule?
Well, they’re making a law that more-or-less will give teeth to the rule. Congress does what little policing of its own rules that there are. A law, on the other hand, will allow the executive branch to go after them. At least in theory and as far I as understand.
Isn’t there some way that any senator, not just a leader, can cause problems if a rule isn’t followed?
Yes, and that’s part of the McCain/Coburn strategy. They intend to challenge every rules breach on the floor of the Senate and put these guys on record. More tranparency since it will now be on record that they chose to ignore their own rules.
." A law, on the other hand, will allow the executive branch to go after them." I am rather skeptical about the idea of a President sending federal marshalls to arrest Senators for spending money they shouldn’t have. Although it may be constitutional(I am certainly no expert) and legal, I would think it politically impossible.
"They intend to challenge every rules breach on the floor of the Senate and put these guys on record."
So what are they waiting for? And where has St. John been for the last few years? I seem to recall reqding somewhere that the late Sen. Moynihan(?) did something similar.
I am rather skeptical about the idea of a President sending federal marshalls to arrest Senators for spending money they shouldn’t have. Although it may be constitutional(I am certainly no expert) and legal, I would think it politically impossible.
If there is nobody to enforce the law, then it doesn’t make any sense to put it on the books.
Our bill, entitled the Pork-Barrel Reduction Act, would establish a new procedure under Rule XVI, modeled in part after the Byrd Rule, which would allow a 60-vote point of order to be raised against blah, blah, blah, blah...
Empty gesture, meaningless posturing, etc. I’ve heard politicians yakking about eliminating waste, fraud and abuse since the ’60s. I am sure they yakked about it even earlier. When something is actually done, I will believe.
"If there is nobody to enforce the law, then it doesn’t make any sense to put it on the books"