Thursday, March 30, 2006

Harold Ford Jr: Congress Needs Pork Controls To Stop Waste

While Congressman Ford's U.S. Senate opponents are talking about meaningless straw polls and attacking the Congressman, he is out talking about real solutions to real problems.

One of those problems is pork barrel spending, which Congressman Ford address in the op-ed below:

Spending taxpayer money wisely is always important, but never more so than during times of war and increased economic competition.

Our armed forces are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, performing dangerous and vital missions. We have asked for tremendous personal sacrifice from our troops and their families, and they have responded.

At the same time, the rise of China and India as economic powers poses new challenges on the economic front. American companies are making painful decisions to cut costs to remain competitive. Given the uncertain economic climate, none of the families I have talked to across Tennessee thinks this is a good time to spend money on wasteful items and take on more debt.

But the message that challenging times demand smarter choices is not getting through in Washington. Instead of refocusing our priorities on supporting the military and investing in a more competitive economy, Congress is setting records for "pork-barrel" spending.

Last year Congress approved 15,877 pork projects costing taxpayers more than $47 billion. That represents five times as many projects, at more than double the cost, as one decade ago.

Last year Congress agreed to spend $223 million of your taxes on unidentified projects in Alaska. Another $2 million was spent on water-free urinals. Almost $400,000 went to grapefruit research. Congress spent millions more to display tropical fish, enhance jump-roping exhibitions, build a ski bowl and transport water from one lake to another.

These are only a handful of the projects that were "earmarked" into the budget with no competitive funding process and no oversight.

Every dollar spent on pork is a dollar that could be better invested or returned to the taxpayers.

Astonishingly, even with our nation's huge gaps in border security, port security and disaster preparedness, the money spent on pork exceeds the $41 billion budget for homeland security.

With mounting budget deficits, the U.S. has borrowed more than $1 trillion from foreign governments and banks in the past four years. Two weeks ago, Congress raised the federal debt ceiling -- the nation's credit limit -- to $9 trillion. Most families approaching their credit limit set priorities on needs and luxuries, but Congress keeps on spending indiscriminately. And in over five years in office, President Bush has signed every pork-laden bill that Congress has sent him.

Both parties are at fault. The proliferation of pork began when Democrats controlled Congress, but has only accelerated under the Republicans.

A bipartisan problem demands a bipartisan solution. In that spirit, I offer several ideas to give Americans the best value for their tax dollars.

First, institute a "stand by your earmark" rule. If a member of Congress wants to insert an earmark into a bill at the final stage of the legislative process, he should be forced to sign his name to the provision and explain why it is in the interests of the nation as a whole. This rule would prevent special-interest favors from being slipped into bills at the last minute with no one claiming responsibility.

At the same time, members of Congress would have a chance to defend projects that have genuine value. For example, I would be proud to stand up and persuade my colleagues that it was worthwhile to invest the $1 million in federal money that was approved last year for LeMoyne-Owen College's juvenile asthma research program, which is benefiting the entire nation.

Second, the secretive nature of lobbying is one of the main reasons Congress spends money on projects that serve special interests at the expense of the national interest. Lobbyists should be required to disclose who all of their clients are and what specific provisions they are lobbying for.

Third, we should institute a rule that any new spending has to be offset somewhere else in the budget. Requiring Congress to balance its books every year -- like any business or family -- would force us to separate national needs from political luxuries.

Fourth, this very simple idea might be the most effective: Let the American people read bills before Congress votes on them. Post the entire text of the bills, including every pork project and special-interest provision, on the Internet for all to see, for at least 72 hours before the vote.

Forcing members of Congress to defend the indefensible would make them think twice before wasting taxpayer dollars.

Read about Congressman Ford's actions on fighting pork barrel spending!

85 Days

Days of Congressional Inaction on Ethics

Above is the number of days that have passed since Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to bribing Congressman.

It is also the number of days in which Congress has failed to pass an ethics reform bill that would limit private travel, ski and golf junkets, and would call for a full disclosure of expenses by lobbyists on members of Congress.

It is time for Congress to step up and pass an ethics reform bill that would do all of the above. In addition, it is time to end the pork barrel spending system as we know it and establish an independent ethics commission that would review ethics complaints against members of Congress.

I am proud Congressman Harold Ford Jr. is fighting for that reform!

Read Congressman Ford's call for reform of the House rules here!