Tag: eric cantor

House Leadership’s Transparency Leadership

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wrote a letter to the House clerk calling for new data standards that will make Congress more open and accountable. Spot on.

The THOMAS legislative database was a huge improvement when it came online in 1995 at the behest of the new Republican Congress, but the Internet has moved on. Today, publishing text or PDF documents is inadequate transparency. It’s more important to make available the data that represent various documents and activities in the legislative process. “Web 2.0” will use that data various ways to deliver public oversight.

I’ll have much more to say in the near future, but here are the kinds of things get to full transparency, which the House leaders’ letter appears meant to imply:

  • Specific Formats: Documents and data must be published in specific formats that allow Web sites, researchers, and reporters to interpret and use text and data easily and automatically. The SEC recently began requiring businesses to report financial information in a format called eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL). This will improve corporate transparency and enable investors to make better decisions. The public should have equally good information about government.
  • Flagging/Tagging: Within these data formats, key information must be “flagged” or “tagged” to highlight the things that matter: spending proposals, agencies and programs affected by a proposed law, recipients of federal money, existing statutes that may be amended, and so on. Flagging/tagging will make the relevance of documents and information immediately apparent to various interests.
  • Bulk Access and Real-Time Updates: Documents and information must be available in bulk, so that new users have full access, and it must be updated in real time, so the public can “see” changes as they happen. It also must be version-controlled so the “story” of a policy’s formation or execution can be told. The public should never have to learn what is in a bill after it passes.
  • Authoritative Sources: The mishmash of data sources that now exist must be replaced by authoritative sourcing. Congress, the White House, federal agencies, and other entities must publish and maintain their documents and data. The public must know once and for all where the definitive versions of documents and data will be.

Disclosure—simply “putting bills online”—was the beginning of the legislative transparency project, not the end. The many transparency Web sites out there have the bills, but they don’t have the data they need to help the public get their government under control.

As I suggested some months ago, House Republicans are positioned to take the transparency mantle from President Obama and the Democrats. Web 2.0 thought leader Tim O’Reilly—no Republican cheerleader—has already called the race, Tweeting last week, “The ‘R’s in Congress are doing better on this than ‘D’s did.” Assuming action consistent with this letter, the House Republicans will indeed soon have the transparency lead.

Republican $100 Billion Spending Cut

A top agenda item for the incoming House Republicans is to immediately start cutting spending. The GOP promised to reduce “nondefense” (or alternatively “nonsecurity”) spending for 2011 to the 2008 level, representing a $100 billion cut. GOP leaders are now being accused of backsliding on that promise, so let’s take a look at the numbers.

The idea is to reduce fiscal 2011 “budget authority” to the level it was in fiscal 2008. The chart shows the growth in nondefense budget authority since 2000. The spike in 2009 is from $265 billion in discretionary spending authorized in the “stimulus” bill.

Congress currently has a “continuing resolution” in place that keeps 2011 spending at about the same level as 2010, as shown in the chart. Thus, the House GOP will need to cut spending for the remainder of this fiscal year by about $55 billion to hit the 2008 level. That is less than $100 billion, but the higher cut number was based on proposed spending by Obama for 2011 that wasn’t enacted.  

The important thing is that Congress needs to start cutting all types of spending right away. We face a fiscal emergency as debt is exploding, and there are many federal spending activities that are damaging to society and the economy. The GOP should cut defense and entitlement spending as well, but nondefense discretionary cuts are a good place to start.

In considering cuts, note that about $136 billion in nondefense discretionary “stimulus” bill money is still sloshing through the government in 2011 and beyond, so spending cuts (unfortunately) won’t starve the bureaucracies as much as liberals might fear.

The chart puts proposed spending cuts in context. House GOP leaders now admit that they spent too much during the past decade, and indeed the chart shows that nondefense discretionary spending jumped $264 billion over the last decade. Much of the increase came when the GOP controlled the House, Senate, and White House, so now is the GOP’s chance to start reversing out those Bush-era increases.

Data note: current stimulus and nondefense discretionary budget authority data are available on pages 13 and 21 of CBO’s August outlook.

GOP: Cut Whaling History Subsidies, Save Nation

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor’s “YouCut” project has released a new video that attempts to visually underscore the impropriety of sticking future taxpayers with a mountain of federal debt.

The video begins with a voice saying “You wouldn’t do this to your child’s piggy bank” followed by visuals of a child’s piggy bank being smashed with a hammer. The voice then says:

But Democrat controlled Washington is leaving a $13 trillion debt for your children and future generations. It’s time Washington got its fiscal house in order. Start changing the culture of spending in Washington by voting on YouCut today.

That’s a wee bit disingenuous considering that Republicans and Democrats alike are responsible for the massive federal debt.

More frustrating is the fact that the GOP leadership rhetoric of grave concern is completely at odds with the party’s tiny proposed reforms. In Cantor’s YouCut commentary he says “America is at a critical crossroads, and the choices we make today will determine the kind of country we leave to our children and grandchildren.”

Now let’s look at this week’s proposed GOP spending cuts. A website banner says “CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THIS WEEK’S FIVE CUTS,” but takes the viewer to the YouCut page where they’re offered three spending cut options:

1. Terminate Taxpayer Funding of National Public Radio. The site says this would achieve “Savings of Tens of Millions of Dollars (potentially in excess of a hundred million dollars).” NPR shouldn’t receive taxpayer funding – and not just because it canned Juan Williams. But couldn’t the House GOP leadership have at least offered up the $500 million Corporation for Public Broadcasting that subsidizes NPR for cutting?

2. Terminate Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners Program. The site says this would save $87.5 million over ten years.

3. Terminate the Presidential Election Fund. This would achieve a whopping projected savings of $520 million over ten years.

America is at a “critical crossroads” and the GOP leadership is offering to cut whaling history subsidies? Congress is bankrupting the nation and the possible next Speaker of the House – “never a details man” – can’t even specify what he would cut in the budget.

It’s pathetic.

‘YouCut’ Spending by 0.017%

House Republicans unveiled a bold strategy to cut 0.017 percent from the $3.7 trillion federal budget this week. Republican Whip Eric Cantor unveiled the GOP’s “YouCut” website, which includes five possible spending cuts for citizens to vote on. Mr. Cantor promised to take the favored cut to the House floor next week for members to consider.

The basic idea of YouCut is a good one — getting citizens actively involved in solving the government’s giant deficit problem and focusing congressional attention on cutting the bloated budget.

But the GOP leadership make themselves look silly by offering such small cuts. The suggested cuts on the new website average just $638 million in annual savings, which is just 0.017 percent of total federal spending. Put another way, it is just $1 of cuts for every $5,800 of federal spending. The average YouCut savings idea is just 0.04 percent of this year’s federal deficit of $1.6 trillion. So we would need 2,500 cuts of this size to balance the budget.

It’s a mystery why the Republican leadership can’t offer more than tiny spending reforms. They’ve got lots of sharp staffers who know how wasteful many large programs are and understand the need to terminate whole agencies. It’s true that YouCut will offer new cuts every week, but so far the cuts are very timid.

The second-largest YouCut idea this week is to refocus “community development” spending on those cities that are the most needy. But the whole idea of the federal government spending money on local projects such as parking lots is both economically absurd and an obvious violation of the Tenth Amendment.

Come on Republicans, you can do better. Terminating all of HUD’s $13 billion in annual community development spending, for example, ought to be an easy vote for any member claiming to be a fiscal conservative.  

Some Republicans do understand the nation’s fiscal emergency and the need for bold action. Paul Ryan, for example, has his excellent roadmap proposal. But thus far with YouCut, we have the Empire State Building engulfed in flames and Mr. Cantor sending in a toddler with a squirt gun to solve the problem.

Still, the House Republicans have created a tool that citizens can use to get the message across about the need for much larger reforms. The YouCut website encourages people to send in their own budget-cutting ideas. I’ll be sending some in, and folks, feel free to borrow ideas from the “Spending Cut” tables on www.downsizinggovernment.org.  

I don’t think conservative voters, tea party activists, and other citizens concerned about the nation’s economic future want to cut 0.017 percent from the budget. I think they want to cut 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, or more. So send your suggestions into YouCut, and we will see whether the GOP puts away the squirt guns and pulls out the fire hoses.