A Niagara Falls of Money — So What?

NPR’s Andrea Seabrook had a truly disturbing discussion with House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-WI) about the absence of earmarks in the non-stimulus bill.

SEABROOK (voice-over): Instead of Congress, hundreds and hundreds of public servants all over the country will decide how to spend the economic stimulus money … But when you pull earmarks out of the bill, you also change the balance of power in the government. If members of Congress aren’t writing into the bill how the money is to be spent, then someone else is making those decisions … When this bill passes, a Niagara Falls of money will flow out of Washington and into the accounts of state highway commissioners, governors and legislatures, local school boards, county executives, even mayors …

OBEY: We simply made a decision, which took about three seconds, not to have earmarks in the bill.

SEABROOK (voice-over): This is David Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He helped write this bill, and he does not like being asked about earmarks.

OBEY: And with all due respect, that’s the least important question facing us on putting together this package.

SEABROOK: Does that mean, though, that Congress will have less control and less, in fact, ability to say, “You spend it in the way we wanted you to spend it”—

OBEY: Of course it does. Of course it does. So what? This is an emergency. And so, with all due respect, we have got to simply find a way to get this done as fast as possible, and as well as possible, and that’s what we’re doing.

SEABROOK: Aren’t there a thousand ways that this money could be spent badly, though?

OBEY: There are a thousand ways it could be spent badly. There are a thousand ways it could be spent well. So what’s new?

SEABROOK: What’s new is that you’re not telling them how to spend it as much as you usually do.

OBEY: So what?

SEABROOK: Won’t you be responsible when it’s spent badly, then?

OBEY: No, the person who spends the money badly will be responsible. We are simply trying to build as many protections in as possible. We’ve got more oversight built into this package than any package in the history of man. If money is spent badly, we want to know about it, so we can hold accountable the people who made that choice. And guess what? Regardless of what we do, there will be some stupid decisions made.

Will be?

The entire story is worth a listen.