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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Senate To Consider Coburn/Obama "Show Us the Money" Amendment to Put Government Spending on Public Database

It's gotten little attention in the mainstream media but a potentially landmark measure authored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Sen. Barrack Obama, D-IL, was taken up by the Senate today. Call it the "Show Us the Money" amendment for Uncle Sam.

The measure is Amendment 3175, which is one of a bunch of amendments to the Lobbying Reform Bill now being considered by the Senate. Odds are very good that every Member of the Senate will have the opportunity to vote for or against the Coburn/Obama amendment.

The Coburn/OBama amendment directs the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish a publicly available database of the more than $300 billion the federal government spends each year via contracts and grants to more than 30,000 groups, businesses and organizations.

Making public data about the recipients of that $300 billion chunk of the federal budget and how they spend the tax dollars would remove the biggest roadblock to public accountability that makes Pork Barrel spending possible - You can't track pork barrel if you don't who gets the money.

The database would include " the name of each entity receiving federal funds, the amount of federal funds the entity has received annually by program, and the location of the entity," according to Roland Foster, a Coburn aide.

Foster also said the amendment "would be an important tool to make federal funding more accountable and transparent. It would also help to reduce fraud, abuse and misallocation of federal funds by requiring greater accounting of federal expenditures."

A major problem for those seeking to track where federal tax dollars go and then insure the funds are spent as required by Congress is addressed by the Coburn/Obama amendment by assigning a unique identifier to all entities receiving federal funds.

The amendment thus requires of federal agencies a level of disclosure and public accountability similar to that already required by Congress of private businesses, non-profits and other non-government instutitions.

Foster said the spending database would be similar to one already in existence at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects (CRISP) system, which "is a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions."

Foster said CRISP is maintained by the Office of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health, and contains spending data on grants going back to 1972.

UPDATE: Lott Kills "Show Us the Money" Amendment

That was quick! Sen. Trent Lott, R-MS, raised a Rule 22 Point of Order which resulted in the Coburn/Obama amendment being killed. I have no idea what a Rule 22 Point of Order refers to but I will soon and will post it here ASAP.

In the meantime, it seems like Lott has forgotten the power of the blogs. A reminder is due.

UPDATE II: Lott Thinks "Show Us the Money" Not Relevant to Ethics Reform

The Senate's Rule 22 refers to the germaneness - i.e. relevance - of a proposed amendment. Translated from the Washington legislatese in which senators and congressmen so often hide, this means Lott thinks making sure the public can see who is getting more than $300 billion of their tax dollars has nothing to do with congressional ethics.

Put another way, Lott just told taxpayers to butt out.

UPDATE III: Lott Plays Taxpayers for Fools, Coburn Votes No

To cap off his day on Capitol Hill, Lott voted for the Lobbying Reform bill that contains his version of earmark reform. Coburn said the Lott earmark provision was a meaningless gesture and so voted against the entire bill. He was joined by only seven other senators.

Tim Chapman at Townhall.com's Capitol Report has more details, including text of Coburn statement.

Lott's actions today illustrate what is surely among the most fundamental problems preventing genuine reform in Washington - Hardly anybody in either chamber of Congress or either party fears being defeated in November.

Remember that Contract with America "revolution" that was supposed to start when the GOP took over Congress for the first time in 40 years back in 1994? It was lost the moment then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the new GOP leadership decided to forget their promise to implement congressional term limits.