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Bring Common Sense Earmark Reform to a Vote in Congress

Oct 31, 2007
Columns

Americans are tough consumers. We make sure we don’t get ripped off when we invest our hard earned money towards a significant purchase, like a car. We not only look at the bottom line, but we also scrutinize the breakdown of hidden fees we are asked to pay.

When I listen to residents of the 22nd District, they continually reiterate that Congress should be more accountable, needs to get more done, and needs to stop wasting taxpayer money. I couldn’t agree more. To address these issues, Congress should first take responsible precautions to scrub out “hidden fees” that waste money when Congress passes legislation that spends billions of Americans’ tax dollars. If we are ever going to balance the budget, we need the ability to challenge any part of a bill that contains wasteful spending. This common sense principle is shared by many, and was recently conveyed to me in a letter from a resident of the 22nd District: “Lawmakers should not be able to slip their ‘earmarks’ into the budget anonymously.” An example of an earmark that is not worthy of our tax money is a New York Congressman’s inclusion of $2 million in a recently passed spending bill to build a library in New York City that is named after himself to honor his Congressional career – that Congressman’s own “monument to me.”

Unfortunately, the House rules do not permit Members of Congress to strip wasteful earmarks by calling out these “hidden fees” in legislation spending new money. So Americans’ hard earned tax dollars are funding some earmarks that many Americans consider government waste. Earlier this year, Congressmen were unable to challenge spending $39 million for a drug intelligence center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that a Congressman snuck into a bill and the government agency in charge of the program did not even want. John Carnevale, a former official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a U.S. News & World Report article that “none of us wanted it in Johnstown.”

We need to fix this broken system. That is why two weeks ago, my colleagues and I introduced a congressional petition to force a vote on earmark reform (H. Res. 479), which would enhance accountability by allowing all earmarks to be subject to public scrutiny and challenge on the House floor. Almost 200 members of Congress signed the petition shortly after it was introduced, but 22 more signatures are needed to bring this reform to a vote.

I hope that both Republicans and Democrats who have not signed the petition will join me in fighting for this common sense reform. Preventing wasteful spending transcends party lines. One year before becoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi promised to “bring transparency and openness to the budget process and to the use of earmarks, we will give the American people the leadership they deserve.” As Speaker of the House, she has the chance to take the lead by being the first Democrat to sign the petition and persuading her colleagues to join the 196 members that have signed the petition.

If it is common sense for Americans to make sure we aren’t getting ripped off when we invest in a large purchase, then it should be common sense for Congress to ensure that taxpayers are not getting ripped off. Congress needs to pass common sense earmark reform. Americans and their wallets will be better off with it.