I am sorry that neither Brad Blumer of The New Republic nor Ezra Klein the American Prospect seem to really "get" the problem with earmarks. It's not that earmarks are bad - it's that they are never subjected to scrutiny, that they are part of the underbelly of the Congressional process that never sees the light of day, that there's no opportunity for the public - much less Members of Congress - to evaluate them. It's fundamentally undemocratic for a single member of Congress to allocate money without scrutiny of his colleagues and the public. The process stinks.
“If we are going to have any taxes at all, the fairest place to start is with dead billionaires.” That quote – from Chuck Collins of Responsible Watch – is one side of the argument against doing away with inheritance taxes, a mission high on the priority list of the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in Congress.
The other side of the argument is to call it a basically unfair “death tax.” That’s the mantra that’s been used for years to rationalize raising the limits before the inheritance tax kicks in, and eventually to do away with it altogether.
The House and Senate have agreed on a version of S. 2590, the Coburn-Obama database bill. The press release indicates that the publicly available database that the legislation will create will include both federal contracts and grants (an earlier House bill, Blunt-Davis, would have disclosed grants but not contracts). The bill still has to pass the House, but it looks like it's moving forward. Here's the release:
WASHINGTON---House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Barack Obama (Ill.), and Tom Carper (Del.), and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) today announced that they have reached agreement on legislation to increase accountability and transparency by establishing a public database to track federal grants and contracts.
...unanimously. Lots of groups got involved in drawing attention to the holds, smoking out Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd, and keeping pressure on the Senate leadership in both parties to pass this measure to provide the public with an online database tracking all federal contracts and grants--letting us see the government's receipts for all those shopping sprees--but I think N.Z. Bear deserves a lot of thanks for graphically turning a parliamentary maneuver into a Washington whodunit, complete with citizen sleuths. Not quite Agatha Christie, maybe, but not bad at all!
Here's a fun way to make Congress more transparent from GOOD Magazine: Have politicians wear their top campaign contributor's logos on their suits just like NASCAR drivers do with their sponsors. This seems like a nice way to let constituents know who's sponsoring the candidacy of their Senator or congressman. Earlier today Larry wrote about the candidates for the open Senate seat in Maryland, all of whom are running as "outisders" despite taking thousands of dollars from lobbyists and corporate and politician PACs. I'd love to see that Michael Steele ad (the one where he doesn't mention what party he's in and says he'll tell the voters what's wrong with both parties) with him dressed in his politician NASCAR suit emblazoned with the names of top Republican political action committees. GOOD features an illustration by Serifcan Ozcan of Senators Rick Santorum and Hillary Clinton in their NASCAR suits:
Each of these grants is exciting in its own way: two of the larger grants are cutting edge projects in the world of citizen journalism - one to Jay Rosen's NewAssignment.Net and the other to Dan Gillmor's Center for Citizen Media.
I feel like Jay's project is on the cusp of making some very big waves. As I said to him, if this works (and I think it will), the Washington game will never be the same again. The oh-so-cozy relationship between lawmakers and the old media will be replaced by something that is much more powerful - fearless citizens. I am certain that the establishment media will be challenged - and that's a very good thing - by this experiment's anticipated successes and perhaps they will recall that their mission to "afflict the comfortable." And one further thought: what Rosen is trying to do with NewAssignment.Net is something that media reform activists should start paying attention to since it can offer a way around the mainstream media's failure.
<p class="MsoNormal">A page one story in today’s Washington Post – <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/06/AR2006090602119.html">PAC Funds Undercut Claims in Senate Race</a> – is one of those delicious accounts that almost make suffering through this season of election rhetoric worthwhile.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">The story, by Matthew Mosk, focuses on the Maryland Senate race and points out the credibility gap between the actions and deeds of Rep. Ben Cardin, who’s looking to move from the House into an open seat in the Senate. Cardin is running in the Democratic primary against former Congressman Kweisi Mfume and a host of others.</p>
Don't look now, but someone in Washington has apparently decided that it's not fair for Sen. Ted Stevens and Sen. Robert Byrd to hog all pork-hiding, dislcosure-obstructing glory. Rebecca Carr reports that, no sooner were Stevens and Byrd outed for blocking the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama, a new anonymous Senator has placed a hold on the bill.
Over the weekend, Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune reported on the means that one Washington special interest, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, used to influence members of Congress, but noted one very interesting fact. First, the means:
For years, the National Marine Manufacturers Association asked one of its member manufacturers to lend the group's Washington lobbying office the use of a new yacht for the warm-weather months. The purpose was "to help our government relations staff develop relationships with key policy makers," the group's political action committee wrote in a report to members.
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