Topic: Government and Politics

WashingtonWatch.com Earmarks Project Drives Obama Administration Reform

I was very pleased to read in Federal Computer Week this morning that the Office of Management and Budget will begin tracking earmark requests next year for the fiscal 2011 budget cycle.

OMB makes available some years’ approved earmarks, but not the earmark requests put forward by members of Congress. Tracking and publishing requests will shed light on the whole ecosystem of congressional earmarks—the favor factory, if you will.

OMB’s move follows a project WashingtonWatch.com has conducted this summer: asking the public to plug earmark disclosures into a database. The site now maps over 20,000 earmarks. (Well, technically, that much data breaks the mapping tool, but you can see state-by-state earmark maps.)

Earlier this year, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees required their members to disclose earmark requests. These disclosures—published as Web pages and PDF documents—were not useful, but public interest in this area is strong, and the public made them useful by entering them into WashingtonWatch.com’s database.

The project isn’t over, by the way, and the current focus is collecting earmarks requested by Appropriations Committee members.

It’s great news that next year the Obama Administration will track and disclose earmarks, from request all the way through to enactment. Given his struggle in the area lately, this is a chance to score some transparency points. President Obama campaigned against earmarks, promising reform, and this is an important step toward delivering on that promise.

Change We Can’t Believe In?

In her Washington Post column today, Ruth Marcus doesn’t mention President Obama’s 1-for-46 record on posting bills online for five days before signing them. But she does single out a similar promise: “When the details of health reform were being hammered out, he vowed, ‘We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.’”

According to Marcus, dealmaking with the drug industry “underscores the dangerously wide gap between Obama’s idealistic campaign-trail promises and the gritty realities of governing. “

Observers will continue to note peeling paint and growing rust spots on the “Change” icon that swept President Obama into office. He set high standards by which his lawmaking practices will be judged, and he’s not meeting them.

That’s not a personal knock on the president. He would if he could. But even a president can’t single-handedly undo the power dynamics that have accrued in and around Washington, D.C. for most of the last century – especially not one who believes that exercising government power is good.

Obama Channels John Ashcroft

At his town meeting in New Hampshire, President Obama urged people not to listen to those who seek to “scare and mislead the American people.” Meanwhile, his new White House website “Reality Check” – your tax dollars at work, folks, on political propaganda – warns supporters that “the road ahead will surely reveal more aggressive efforts from defenders of the status quo to confuse and scare Americans with half-truths and outright lies.”

I immediately thought of former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s notorious declaration in December 2001: “to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.”

Presidents and their teams don’t like criticism. They have total access to the media – primetime, nationally televised speeches and press conferences, weekly radio addresses, websites, massive party and political organizations, journalists at their beck and call. Their every passing comment is news. Their speeches dominate the headlines. They set the agenda, whether it’s the Patriot Act or health care bills. And yet they can’t abide criticism.

And when the criticism is effective, they lash out. They denounce their opponents for seeking to ”scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberties” or “confuse and scare Americans with half-truths and outright lies.” (Quick: which one of those was 2001, and which was 2009?)

But the fact is that the Bush administration’s actions after 9/11 really did result in a loss of liberty, and the Obama administration’s plans for our health care really should scare Americans. And libertarians have been, and will continue to be, in the forefront of Americans resisting intrusions on liberty by administrations from both parties. They won’t be dissuaded by Nixonian claims that dissent and criticism are divisive and damaging to national unity.

A Transparency Reality Check

David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, emailed me yesterday (along with perhaps several million others) to tell me about a new effort on Whitehouse.gov to dispel “rumors and scare tactics” from people opposing even more government regulation of the health sector. I think the opponents of expanded regulation have the better arguments on the merits.

transparency reality checkI was struck, though, by the effort that has gone into creating an entirely new section of Whitehouse.gov for a “Health Insurance Reform Reality Check,” complete with fancy graphics and videos. (I have modified one of those graphics to illustrate this post. Fun!) Meanwhile, the White House still hasn’t brought itself to do something that President Obama promised on the campaign trail: post bills online for five days before signing them.

Since I last updated the chart, President Obama has signed seven more bills. None of them were posted online for five days, though two were held at the White House for that long before they got the president’s signature.

It’s the president’s prerogative to use Whitehouse.gov for PR, of course. The site and the PR on it would have more legitimacy, though, if it were also a basic resource for information about the legislative business the president conducts — as he promised.

Because the White House has established no uniform location for posting bills, there’s always a chance that I missed postings. I welcome corrections.

In my search for posted bills I did find this blog post, which says “The President believes that a piece of legislation as important as the Recovery Act must be implemented with an unprecedented degree of transparency.” But as you can see below, he denied the public a chance to review the Recovery Act as he promised, making it Public Law 111-5 within a day of its presentment.

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Posted (Linked) for Comment? Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (”WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-41, The Korean War Veterans Recognition Act 7/27/2009 7/27/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-42, Approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 7/28/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-43, A bill to provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 7/30/2009 7/31/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-44, The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-45, To authorize the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use funds made available under the Trademark Act of 1946 for patent operations in order to avoid furloughs and reductions-in-force, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-46, To restore sums to the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes 8/4/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-47, Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2009 for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program 8/6/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a

Another Indictment of the Bush-Obama Years

Here’s a depressing little blurb from the New York Times about the disparity between anemic job growth in the private sector and rising payrolls in the bureaucracy.

For the first time since the Depression, the American economy has added virtually no jobs in the private sector over a 10-year period. The total number of jobs has grown a bit, but that is only because of government hiring. …For the decade, there was a net gain of 121,000 private sector jobs, according to the survey of employers conducted each month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In an economy with 109 million such jobs, that indicated an annual growth rate for the 10 years of 0.01 percent.

At some point, of course, the rising number of people dependent on government will overwhelm the shrinking number of people producing real wealth in the private sector. Nations such as France and Italy may be perilously close to that tipping point. Yet since politicians rarely think beyond the next election cycle, they have little incentive to arrest the downward slide. Instead, as the current health care debate demonstrates, they seek to add more fuel to the dependency fire.

Congress Passed TARP for What?

I thought it was to clear up so-called toxic assets.  But apparently no toxic assets have been cleared up.

Reports ABC News:

Signs abound that the worst of the recession is over: Stocks have been surging, the rate of job losses has slowed, so it seems that the economic apocalypse has been averted.

Government programs such as the $787 billion stimulus and last fall’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program have so far been successful, the Obama administration says.

Except, the Congressional Oversight Panel warns in its August report, TARP never actually bought any troubled assets.

“It is likely that an overwhelming portion of the troubled assets from last October remain on bank balance sheets today,” the panel’s report says.

Those bad assets are still there, rotting away on banks’ books, making banks reluctant to ratchet up lending, and maybe, the watchdog warns, paving the way for another financial meltdown.

Isn’t American government great?!  The executive branch stampedes Congress into authorizing the former to spend an enormous amount of money allegedly to save the nation from economic calamity.  The executive branch changes its mind and uses the money in other ways.  The original problem remains — while the taxpayers are  far poorer — presumably still threatening economic calamity.  Now what?

TARP II.  Don’t be surprised if the Obama administration eventually unveils a massive new program to clear up toxic assets.

The lesson?  Beware government officials promising to help you by seizing your money and distributing it to a gaggle of grasping individuals and companies.  Especially beware government officials demanding a second chance after wasting your money the first time!

About This Year’s $2 Trillion Deficit: Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Certainly the House leadership believes, along with Bobby McFerrin:  “Don’t worry, be happy.”  What else to make of the plan to spend $550 million on another eight planes to fly legislators and their families around the world?

Reports the Wall Street Journal:

Bipartisan opposition is emerging in the Senate to a plan by House lawmakers to spend $550 million for additional passenger jets for senior government officials.The resistance to buying eight Gulfstream and Boeing planes comes as members of both chambers of Congress embark on the busiest month of the year for official overseas travel. The plan to upgrade the fleet of government jets, which was included in a broader defense-funding bill, has also sparked criticism from the Pentagon, which has said it doesn’t need half of the new jets.

Well, what’s a few hundred million dollars among friends?  I always say:  “it’s only money.”  In this case, “it’s only the taxpayers’ money,” which means that it doesn’t really count at all.