PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: John Fund looks at earmarks and corruption:
If Republicans lose big in November, one reason will be their tardy response to public outrage over profligate spending. The guilty pleas of former GOP Rep. Duke Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff prompted demands for reform of the earmarks–pork projects members often secure in secret–that were prominent in both scandals.
On Thursday, the House did finally pass a rules change that will force sponsors to attach their names to projects. The Senate isn’t expected to follow suit, meaning earmark reform there must wait until next year. On the plus side, both houses this month did pass the Federal Transparency Act. It creates a public Internet database that will allow Google-like searches of the $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts and loans. The “shame factor” the bill will heighten is needed, given that earmarks grew tenfold between 1990 and 2005.
As modest as it is, the transparency bill spent much of August in limbo after Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska, chief defender of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” put a hold on it, using the tradition allowing any senator to secretly block a bill. These games feed the perception of an out-of-touch Congress and demoralize many GOP voters. “Every event I go to, someone complains about overspending and pork,” says Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana, one of the most embattled GOP incumbents. “They still don’t think we get it.”
Many members simply don’t believe the political costs of pork can ever exceed the benefits. Democrats have been largely silent. After all, they get about 45% of them even as a minority. “One man’s pork is another man’s steak,” is how many members dismiss reform.
The reforms passed this year were modest, but helpful. (The lame criticism that they don’t go far enough is true, but lame, especially when offered — as it usually is — by members of Congress who didn’t actually work for any reform.) It’s important to keep the pressure up, though.
Fund has this to say, too, which should be required reading in the White House:
President Bush could also do more. Republican Sen. Jim DeMint notes that the Congressional Research Service has found that 95% of recent earmarks were slipped into committee reports and not written into law. “These non-legislated earmarks are not legally binding,” he says. “President Bush could ignore them. He doesn’t need a line-item veto.”
The federal government is now an astounding 185 times as big in real terms as it was a century ago. A general sense that Republicans have forgotten why they were sent to Washington is a big reason why only 43% of Republicans approve of Congress in this month’s Fox News poll. If Republicans can’t better explain how they plan to get a grip on spending, many voters will conclude they both deserve and need a time-out from power.
Agencies won’t stand up to Congress on that committee report language, unless the President makes them, as they fear budgetary retribution. Bush needs to show some backbone on this, or Republicans will lose. And deserve to.
UPDATE: Here’s more from The Examiner:
Now with Coburn-Obama, every citizen with access to the Internet will be within a few mouse clicks of knowing where their tax dollars are going and who is benefitting from them. Such access moves our democracy beyond Government 1.0 web sites that mainly just provide passive information and encourages more active and informed citizenry. Call it the dawn of Government 2.0. It is especially fitting that a database of federal spending — the blood flow of governance — marks the opening of the new era. . . .
The experts will do well to study the campaign for Coburn-Obama closely for several reasons, not the least of which are that from the beginning it included people and groups from across the political spectrum and the fact that the Internet gave them unprecedented power to assess the situation at any given moment, distribute key information throughout the ranks of supporters and media and generate highly focused action wherever it was most needed. Old media was mostly on the sidelines throughout.
Indeed, though CNN and the Wall Street Journal provided some excellent ongoing coverage, as did the National Journal blogs — though I guess those are more new media than old.