Transparency

Mr. Boehner, Please Move Beyond Earmarks

This from the House Speaker-designate for the 112th Congress in today's Wall Street Journal:

[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:

No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.

I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.

And this from the President during his post-election news conference on Wednesday:

My understanding is Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing.  That’s something I think we can -- we can work on together.

In light of the economy, I can understand why Boehner is focusing on earmarks as the most visible symbol of what needs to be fixed on Capitol Hill. And I agree that we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks. It's easy to come up with rhetoric denouncing "the evils of earmarks," but what we should be focusing on substantively is wasteful spending.

I don't want to get into debates over how Republicans should define public goods and wasteful spending. I do however want to talk about what principles should be espoused by Republicans when it comes to spending and how we can be innovative on sound spending policies.

What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?

  • The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
  • The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
  • The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.

How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:

  • Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
  • Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
  • Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
  • Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
  • Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
  • On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
  • Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.

I'm glad that we're getting out in front of the President and Democrats on this. We need to be in a proactive position, not a reactive position. Talking about earmkars is too easy. This is just another area where we need to develop political communication and public policy entrepreneurship on a serious issue.

Democrat Transparency.

Transparency… There’s a big difference between transparency and camouflage. DeMarxists have trouble with this one. One of the major skills of the left has been their ability to hide things in plain site… and then pull them out to use without warning on slow to react timid Republicans who appeased Democrats more often than not, got their clocks cleaned, or just rolled over altogether. It seemed to play out that way often even when we Republican types held the upper hand and our side just couldn’t wait give that hand away right up to the shoulder.

This worst recession since the Great Depression has accomplished something surprising for the American people. We are now infinitely more in tune with our economy, our government and its massive deficits and freedom killing policies. What a difference two years, several millions of Patriots nationwide and the vast majority of the American people can make. Our Senate Republicans have stood the test of fire in this Congress and have made waves all out of proportion to their numbers… but that’s what a good fighting minority is capable of.

A factor that has worked in our favor has been the whole communications revolution which placed news and images directly in front of us, news that was only seconds old flashing around the world in an instant. Every citizen with a cellphone became the source for a story or a video. It’s like having millions of news crews available anytime. The amount of information being reported on and transferred is staggering.

That’s what happens with camouflage, sooner or later somebody takes a real close look and they realize there’s no transparency there at all. As a matter of fact, the more that we scrutinize the DeMarxists and their activities the better our understanding of their bottom feeding habits. We highlight the livin’ hell out of them taking a page from their book. We provide transparency. We, you and me, we have a voice and it’s being heard.

We’re bringing transparency to the darkest corners of the Demarxist play book… and America does not like what it sees, an America that now recognizes the truth of this Presidency… this regime, and is rejecting it wholesale.

Semper Vigilans, Semper Fidelis

© Skip MacLure 2010

Pelosi & Hoyer Say Final Health Care Bill To Be Online For 72 Hours

Crossposted from the Sunlight Foundation.

Last week, Jake wrote that "it is utterly imperative that the final version of the bill be online for the public to view for at least 72 hours." The House Majority just announced that they will do just that (via #HealthReformNow):

Pelosi and Hoyer say final health reform bill will be online for 72 hours before House vote so Members and Americans can review #hcr

This is a great development and another big win for those who have called for the bill to be available to the public for 72 hours throughout this whole process. The Sunlight Foundation has called for the health care bill to be available to the public for 72 hours at each point that versions have come to the floor. In each of these instances the majority has acquiesced and posted each version, from the House bill to the Senate bill, for at least 72 hours prior to consideration. Those of you who have signed the Read the Bill petition and put the pressure on Congress to be this transparent have been vital in ensuring that we have access to this major bill before lawmakers consider, debate and vote on it. Earlier this week, Ellen explained the importance of the 72 hour requirement:

Think of posting something on line for 3 days as a ‘safety valve’ – a final chance for citizens, media, lawmakers and lobbyists alike to look at the whole package giving everyone one last opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the bill. If readers are in an advocacy mode they have time to mobilize others in support or opposition, and/or take action in whatever form they see fit. There is no measure more important to debate in the open than health care, and this is a moment when we all need to be champions for public, online disclosure and engage with our government. With 72 hours, the buck can actually stop with citizens the way our Founders intended. We know that Congress do it because congressional leadership has already done so at other critical points in this debate.

Of course, we still need to make sure that this promise is kept and that won't be done until the bill has been online for 72 hours and then brought to the floor. Let's keep it up.

Disclosure: I am the online organizer and outreach coordinator for the Sunlight Foundation.

 

 

 

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Holding the President Accountable on Health Care Debate

The President promised on 8 different occassions to have the health care negotiations broadcast on C-SPAN, and now that push has come to shove he isn't actually interested in following through on those promises. Once again he has proven that he is only interested in talking about change. He just doesn't get it.

We can't count on the media to hold him accountable, and that is why I need your help in sending me to Congress so I can bring conservatism, true reform, and accountability to Washington.

For more information, please visit: www.chuckforcongress.com

Follow me on Twitter: @chuck4congress

The problem with Recovery.gov isn't the data, it is the politics

The White House has gotten a black eye for two key problems with the Recovery.gov stimulus database. The first problem was that the numbers of jobs were bogus. The Washington Examiner has concluded that at least 10% of the jobs were fabrications. The second problem was that the data about congressional districts were clearly garbage.

But I am not here to rehash this. There is a legitimate problem with the data. But the data wouldn't be such a big deal if the White House hadn't tried to politicize the data and claim victory.

Recovery.gov is a tremendous success for the transparency movement. Politicians lie. A key goal of the transparency movement is to give the people the power to keep the politicians accountable. And that's what this has done.

Here's what happened: The White House shared the data and lied about what it showed. And the data has been used to hang them.

First, let's go to the stimulus bill itself. Congress demanded that the White House report jobs created or saved numbers:

(8) The website shall provide a link to estimates of the jobs sustained or created by the Act.

But that legislative langauge says that "[t]he website shall provide a link to estimates" ... "by the Act". The bill doesn't require a per-contract or a per-district accounting of jobs.

So what's happening? The White House quickly learned that the stimulus bill was going to be a hot potato. So they started to use Recovery.gov to give them (and their Democratic allies in Congress -- recall no Republicans voted for this) cover.

Let's be clear what happened here: the White House politicized this data. And now they are getting hung with the politicization of it (not the bad data).

And this goes to the deeper point. Check out this story from the Washington Post from October 30th, the weekend before election day:

Reports to be released Friday on the government Web site Recovery.gov are expected to show that the $150 billion in grants and loans made so far under the economic stimulus package have created or saved about 650,000 jobs, White House officials said Friday morning.

White House officials said the reports -- which were filed by state and city governments and other recipients of stimulus grants and loans -- will confirm their recent estimates that the $787 billion package passed in February has so far saved or created about a million jobs, putting it on track to match their estimates of 3.5 million jobs created or saved over the three-year span of the stimulus. That calculation is based on the fact that today's reports do not include much of the package's spending -- tax cuts, safety net spending and fiscal aid to strapped states, which injected tens of billions more into the economy and, in the case of the state aid, forestalled layoffs of state workers.

The White House clearly leaked this information the weekend before election day to claim victory based on garbage data. Furthermore, they claimed that Recovery.gov confirmed their previous assessments, and didn't come to any new conclusions based on data. 

Fifteen days earlier, based on partial data, the White House also claimed victory based on incomplete data, using the same number. From the Hill's Walter Alarkon:

"All signs -- from private estimates to this fragmentary data -- point to the conclusion that the Recovery Act did indeed create or save about 1 million jobs in its first seven months, a much needed lift in a very difficult period for our economy," said Jared Bernstein, the chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden.

That same 1m had been their talking point for a while. In September the White House said:

This analysis indicates that the ARRA and other policy actions caused employment in August to be slightly more than 1 million jobs higher than it otherwise would have been.

In May, they said:

Our finding was that the ARRA would increase employment relative to the baseline in this quarter by approximately 3.5 million

Six months later, the White House was repeating these same numbers even though they had data to prove it false. That's the problem.

Boehner and Read the Bill: A sign that Congressional Republicans are starting to get it and the media isn't

I have argued for a while that Repubicans need to pick up the mantle of transparency. It is useful tactically and strategically. On the tactical level, the guys in leadership always play "hide the ball with what they are doing". This gives Republicans a morally secure high-ground to attack whatever the Democrats do. Strategically, it gives us an issue that can both rally our base and makes good sense to independents and many Democrats.

On Friday, House Republican Leader John Boehner issued a statement on transparency. The key passage:

It’s just common sense: Americans should be allowed to read the text of major bills before Congress votes on them.  Previous Congresses, including Republican ones, failed to live up to this standard.  But never before has the failure been as blatant as it has been in the past nine months under Speaker Pelosi.   Things have to change.

There are two key parts to this. First, he grabbed the policy issue and framed it in the adult and serious way "Americans" (not "Members of Congress", which seems like only a populist argument, although some in the media have grabbed the straw man to give the Democrats aircover) should know what Congress is doing so that we can hold them accountable.

The second part is, perhaps, more important. John Boehner has now explicitly rejected the way that he ran the House, said "we have learned", and established a new line in the sand. Furthermore, one of the reforms that he advocates, in this case, a waiting period before legislation can be acted on, actually may impact many of the wasteful spending concerns that actually helped drive him out of office. 

What is so fascinating is the rejection by Senate Democrats and the silence of lefty advocacy groups other than the Sunlight Foundation. In an effort to get a public copy of the healthcare bill before a vote, John Kerry said:

"This is fundamentally a delay tactic," the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate said. "I mean, let's be honest about it. The legislative language, everybody knows, is relatively arcane, legalistic, and most people don't read the legislative language."

That's right. But people who are interested do. People who are experts or people being impacted do, or they hire people to.

And this gets to the final point. Where is the press? Huffington Post is being sent around by Demcorats, because they are giving cover to Democrats. But they aren't really press. But where is the Fourth Estate demanding that they have the information to tell the American people what the debate is about.

Crickets.

You would think that John Boehner repudiating how Republicans ran the House would be worthy of news.

Crickets.

You would think that John Kerry giving cover to the Senate acting without even having legislation (I'm not talking about reading the bill here ...) would be newsworthy.

Crickets outside of Fox and the Washington Times.

Our opposition: Pelosi's Poodles and scaredy cats

We've learned a few things over the last few weeks. One thing is that our opponents are really a bunch of animals

Consider the so-called "Blue Dogs". They loudly purport to be moderate, fiscally responsible Democrats. because that's what their district wants to hear. But we've found that on the Obamacare bill and on Cap & Tax, just enough Blue Dogs voted with the liberals to assure passage.

John Fund said this years ago before they joined the majority, but these folks aren't "Blue Dogs". They are Pelosi's Poodles 

This is what a "Blue Dog" really looks like

blue poodle.jpg

They are perfectly trained to fetch , heel and roll over for their masters Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman. Meanwhile they are also well trained to go back to their districts and beg for support by jumping through hoops pretending to be moderates or conservatives.

We'll see how Zack Space, Mike Ross, Bart Gordon & co. fare trying to explain they aren't just the door openers to Barney Frank's government medical monopoly.

But now members of the House aren't being dogs at all. At least a dog comes when he is called. 

Now  they are nothing but a bunch of  scaredy cats.

 

Long Island Democrat Congressman Tim Bishop is not alone---running away from the voters he claims to represent instead of defending his record.

“I had felt they would be pointless,” Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO, referring to his recent decision to suspend the events in his Long Island district. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.”

In Bishop’s case, his decision came on the heels of a June 22 event he held in Setauket, N.Y., in which protesters dominated the meeting by shouting criticisms at the congressman for his positions on energy policy, health care and the bailout of the auto industry.

Within an hour of the disruption, police were called in to escort the 59-year-old Democrat — who has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he was elected in 2002 — to his car safely.

Hmm, Tim. I suppose if they don't agree with you then they are an "unruly mob"  

Evidently this is what a lot of "town meetings" are looking like--not the pro-government expansion pep rallies incumbent politicians and their special interest allies like to see.

Hey, if you want to pass bills you haven't read and spend money the country doesn't have you might actually find the public has an opinion about this. 

Maybe our members of the House might want to dust off their copy of the Constitution. Seems they are little unclear about the "redress of grievances" concept.

This August, it is incumbent on all Americans to make clear this is a Republic answerable to the voters, not an imperial government answerable to D.C. power brokers.  And if our elected "representatives" want to hide, well that says more than millions of dollars in slick TV ads, now doesn't it.   

If you can't defend what you are doing in Washington to the people in your district, quit.  

Read the Bill Legislation Introduced in House

Crossposted from Sunlight Foundation

Reps. Baird and Culberson introduced legislation today that would shine more sunlight on the most fundamental work of Congress. Their bill, H. Res. 554, would require that all non-emergency legislation be posted online, in its final form, 72 hours before consideration. The bill is not a panacea for all that ails Congress, but if enacted, it will stave off many congressionally created debacles before they become law.

Most citizens, for example, would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses. The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme. Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. And just about everyone benefit from a check on questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

AR GOP State Rep. Dan Greenberg has a better transparency idea

This is a follow-up to my last post. There are some ideas for transparency that seem much more reasonable to me. For example ...

Arkansan Republican legislator Dan Greenberg wants to make criminal background checks of government officials accessible to the public for a fee. His rationale:

To state the obvious, public officials occupy a unique position of power and trust. I do not think that a criminal record is in all cases a disqualifier for public service, but I do think it is something that the public is entitled to know. Some criminals are repeat offenders, and I suspect that the everyday person thinks that having open criminal records is good public policy. So when I first filed a bill that would make the criminal records of government officials public, I figured most people would think it's a good idea. And maybe it is: but most state legislators think differently.

But the Attorney General, the top law enforcement official in the state, thought it was a terrible idea:

Our Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (not to be confused with Steve Clark) also spoke against the bill; he said he thought the bill was too extensive — that letting the public do background checks on every "state legislator, Justice of the Peace and dogcatcher in Arkansas" granted too much access by too many people. We don't actually have elections for dogcatcher in Arkansas, but it was interesting to see him say publicly what I suspect some elected officials thought privately.

He even thought that he should "protect the privacy" of criminals. Even those who work for the government:

The bill finally made it out of committee but didn't fare so well on the floor. Attorney General McDaniel sent a letter to all legislators arguing that we should "protect the privacy" of criminals' public records. That didn't make much sense to me, but apparently it was more persuasive to others. When the vote was taken, government secrecy won and Freedom of Information lost; the bill failed 33-56.

I think that it would be great to know things like how many felons the Governor appointed. And how many felons work for the Attorney General. Doesn't that seem more relevant than what lobbyists people met?

Who is to blame for corruption? Holding government officials accountable

I am a big fan of a transparency agenda, but I wonder who is supposed to be held responsible for violations. My view of transparency is that we use it to force light on the bad actors. But the bad actors are the government officials, elected or otherwise, not the lobbyists. They are the ones who violate the the public trust. And, furthermore, if they are getting bribed, they should be accountable for that.

A couple of recent posts on the subject seem to miss this point.

In a series of posts at the Sunlight Foundation's blog, Paul Blumenthal and John Wonderlich discuss the limitations on lobbying in the stimulus and bailout bills. Paul summarizes part of John's post with:

The justification being given by the administration for these rules is that they do not want the stimulus funding process to be mucked up by lobbyists seeking bits and pieces of the $700+ billion bill for unworthy projects. However, as John notes, we are seeing unregistered influencers go to lobby for stimulus funds. We are also seeing this happen in other large pots of money. Take for example the $700+ billion bailout handled by the Treasury Department:

If something gets "mucked up" by someone ... aren't government officials doing the mucking? In Congress, lobbyists don't write bills, Congressmen do. In the executive branch, either politcal appointees or civil servants write legislation. It seems to me that the incidence of accountability has to rest on the government official. Right? I mean, if someone is passing out the goodies inappropriately ... they are.

For an executive branch official, lobbying mostly means educating the official and making an argument. Perhaps grassroots pressure is brought on, but that is ultimately the problem of the politicals. If there is a quid pro quo, whether an expensive gift, cash, or whatever, it is a crime and should be dealt with, very harshly and expeditiously, through the criminal system.

For Congress, there are political contributions also and political pressure from interest groups. That's why we disclose contributions, and that's why all the contributions should be disclosed immediately and for all contribution levels, especially online contributions. And interest groups apply pressure. That's what they are there for. The unions are doing that on card-check. The business groups are fighting it.

IPDI's Julie Germany writes up GWU professor Jonathan Turley (no conservative) on this point. Turley offers a much more pointed set of reforms:

Turley’s suggests that we:

  • Put 75% of the responsibility of the current political crisis on the members of Congress.

  • Go back to core principles of what we are trying to achieve in order to fix the system. Go back to Madison’s idea of democracy. Force the factions that divide us into the open. Create systems that prevent back room dealing and special deals that are hidden from the public. Part of the solution is to reform Congress, instead of trying to reform lobbyists.  

  • Force Congress to get rid of the things that cause temptation. Get rid of all gifts, other than symbolic gifts donated to the office they serve. Get rid of earmarks. Require total disclosure of all family members who work for lobbyists.

  • Address the fact that the system is too detached from its constituents and that incumbents have all the power. This city loves the fact that Congress doesn’t change, but it’s killing this country. This includes allowing other parties to rise in the political system, changing the electoral college, and reforming the way primaries are held.  

The best summary is "reform Congress"  not "reform lobbyists". Let us make Members accountable for their decisions. After all, that's who we vote for. That is who bears the brunt of the criticism. Or should.

If someone does something wrong, we should have the information to wrap it around their necks and hang them in the public's eye. We should be able to help their electorates destroy their careers. Ultimately, I don't see what lobbyists really have to do with that.

When progressives get angry on Congress for doing things they don't like, like David Sirota and the cramdown legislation, Sirota cites a BusinessWeek piece about lobbyists targetting moderate Dems:

Industry lobbyists are organizing home state bankers to pressure moderate Democrats they hope will be receptive to limiting the kinds of loans eligible for cramdown. One target: Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana.

What did these lobbyists do that was so bad? Have a bunch of constituents (bankers) call him and meet with him? Did they explain the logic of this (insane) legislation and how it hurt them? Did Bayh ultimately buy that logic? If so, what is wrong with that?

Or is he alleging that Bayh took bribes, either through contributions or gifts or whatever? If so, what are they?

Or are these lefties just whining because Bayh ultimately thought it was a bad idea, and they couldn't muster arguments that were good enough? In that case, their problem is that they should be electing "Better Democrats", that is people who share their ideas.  Some of them get that idea.

But again, what does that have to do with lobbyists?

And isn't a transparency agenda -- like Obama's -- that focuses on lobbyists, not government officials, basically intellectually bankrupt?

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