Earmark Accountability

Transparency is good for what ills us at all levels of government. Whether its local school checkbooks, state agency contracts, or federal earmarks, transparency is a powerful tool for meaningful reform. Chatting this week in Washington with two senior staffers in Kay Bailey Hutchison’s senatorial office, they offered a rather novel approach to controlling egregious waste while possibly cutting spending: put everything out on the table.

Sen. Hutchison, they explained, is on the one hand disgusted by the wasteful excess found in so many of the recent earmark scandals, while on the other hand worried about Congress completely handing over its constitutional purse-string power to unelected bureaucracies.

Her solution? Force earmarks out in the open by making federal lawmakers put their names on the projects, and then require an up or down vote on the proposals.

If it an earmark passes muster on the floor of Congress, voters can decide whether or not the individual member – or Congress as a whole – is behaving responsibly. If the earmark doesn’t pass, the dollars go unspent back into the federal treasury.

Texas has led the nation in comprehensive transparency efforts – including TFR/Empower Texans supporting House Bill 3430 last legislative session to put all state expenses, grants and contracts online in real time. It’s good to see Texas’ ranking senator taking a similar approach to controlling what is at best a public relations problem for Congress, and at worst a festering hole of corruption.

Curing the motivations that drive budget excess may take some time, but Sen. Hutchison is offering a good first step by attempting to shine much needed sunlight on the federal budget process.

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Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael is the CEO of Empower Texans. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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