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January 19, 2006

Reform Packages Aren't Enough

Republicans and Democrats have each presented their own government reform packages, but according to a watchdog group, neither is good enough.

Democrats on Wednesday declared an end to the "Republican culture of corruption," announcing their own "real reform" plan one day after Republicans announced theirs.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said the Democrat plan is about "real change and has real teeth." It's called the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

Democrat leaders said their "aggressive reform package" would "reverse Republican excesses and restore the public trust."

But according to a taxpayer watchdog group, both parties have legitimate criticism to lob against each other's reform proposals.

"The Republicans are right in saying that both parties have complicity in the current ethical mess, where campaign contributions and other gifts are given to Members of Congress in exchange for their support for government largesse for the contributors," said John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

On the other hand, "The Democrats are right that the Republicans' package doesn't go nearly far enough," Berthoud said.
"But the Democrats' package is little better," Berthoud said. "Their lackluster reform package gives lie to their claim that they are not part of the Washington problem."

The problem is that both sides break the law, not that there aren't enough laws. The reason they break the law is because there's so much money floating around Washington because government is just way too big. Fortunately, there are those who are putting forth a real step in dealing with this root cause.

Lobbying reform alone is not enough, said the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW), which has urged Congress to fix the "mangled and secretive budget process."

Tom Schatz, CCAGW president, said, "Bipartisan abuse of the budget process has led to record spending on pork barrel projects and handouts to special interests."

According to CCAGW, total federal spending has swelled 67 percent, from $1.5 trillion in fiscal 1995 to almost $2.5 trillion in fiscal 2005. The number of pork-barrel projects in the federal budget during that same period of time has skyrocketed from 1,349 to 13,997, an increase of 938 percent.

CCAGW supports a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans. The bill, the Obligation of Funds Transparency Act (S. 1495 and H.R. 1642, respectively), would make earmarks more visible and amendable before legislation is passed.

Transparency with regard to the slinging around of pork is a good first step, and it's just a first step. The more power and money we give to Washington, the more this kind of thing will happen, regardless of the number of "reforms" passed. Lobbying isn't a crime and taking contributions from lobbyists isn't a crime. However, the reason both of these legal actions can be abused is because in a government as large, complex and awash in money and power as ours, humanity's weakness kicks in. Giving Washington more and more to do, especially those things that aren't even constitutionally mandated, is simply an invitation for more abuse, and anyone who advocates for the former while ranting against the latter is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst.

Posted by Doug at January 19, 2006 03:22 PM

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You want change? Do away with poltical advertising as we know it.

I'm not talking about doing away with free speech, but I am talking about framing it better. We don't allow folk to yell "Fire" in the theater for rational reasons. Same thing with political ads.

I'd suggest allowing the lies that happen in political ads are equivalent to yelling "Fire" - except with much more dire results.

Commercials should be limited to a candidates platform and background. Because the airwaves belong to the public, political spots would be free. There should be a series of debates for major offices - covered by the media.

These few changes would largely do away with the need for huge campaign funds and the special interests that therewith purchase the politician of their choice.

It'd be a step, anyway.

Another great step would be to add Instant Runoff Voting (IRV - look it up). Transparency is a fine step, too.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at January 19, 2006 03:46 PM