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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: What Next?


What should be the next phase in the Porkbusters campaign to get Congress into a 12-step treatment program for its addiction pork barrel spending?

Things got hot in the public forum last Fall - thanks largely to the Blogosphere - when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, forced to the forefront of debate the issue of earmarks, or specific special interest spending projects inserted into legislation by individual Members of Congress.

The "Bridges to Nowhere" caught the public eye and for awhile it appeared Congress was getting the message that reasonable people would rather spend tax dollars on rebuilding bridges in Lousiana that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina than putting up a bridge to an Alaska island with a couple handfuls of inhabitants.

But then came Christmas, the congressional recess and the NFL playoffs and public attention seems to have focused elsewhere. Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds and N.Z. Bear of Truth Laid Bear godfathered the Porkbusters campaign last fall and now wonder what should be the next step. They want to hear from you.

In making that request, Reynolds and the Bear are seeking to apply the Wisdom of the Crowd and seeking suggestions from the Blogosphere. Lots of people have already commented and you should as well, which you can do here.

Conversations have been hot and heavy around the nation's capitol in recent days on the same topic. The commentary by Coburn aide Sean Davis that appeared earlier this week on Tapscott's Copy Desk was just one slice of a very larger conversational pie.

For my part, I offer these tentative observations, but in the spirit of Congress I "reserve the right revise and extend my remarks."

First, apply the Freedom of Information Act to Congress: Most of what Congress does is done behind closed doors. Politicians in both political parties like it that way because it insulates them from accountability. That is why the Freedom of Information Act has never been applied to Congress. The day of "transparency for thee in the executive branch, but not for me in the legislative branch" should end.

Second, post the full text of all proposed legislation on the internet at every major milestone of the legislative process. That is, when it is first introduced, when it is reported out of committee, when it is scheduled for a floor vote in each chamber and then again when a conference committee report vote is taken. There should be at least 72 hours between posting of the version to be voted on by Congress and when the actual vote is taken.

Third, all spending measures - i.e. earmarks or "pork barrel" - should be identified by the name of the requesting Member of Congress, and all official correspondence - including letters, email and other written communications about the measure with government officials - should be posted on the Members' web site within 24 hours of the documents' production.

I have no illusion about the ultimate efficacy of such measures, but they are at least steps in a positive direction. The ultimate solution is to get government back to doing what it is supposed to do and nothing else.

As has often been said, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

UPDATE: Have you read Coburn's letter?

See the post above this one for the Oklahoma senator's letter to HHS Secretary Michael Levitt seeking all of the data and supporting documentation for the $1.2 billion CDC Center in Atlanta. This is an opportunity for bloggers to assist in congressional oversight.

UPDATE II: Any volunteers?

To join a Porkbusters SWAT Team to help Coburn and other like-minded Members of Congress find and expose the thousands of "bridges to nowhere" in the federal budget each year? Leave your name and email address in the comments.