At a time when the U.S. is starved for genuine bipartisanship in Congress, the Earmark Transparency Act of 2010 should be as welcome as a bottle of spring water to man lost in the desert.
Earmarks are special-interest legislative provisions senators and representatives use to direct tax dollars to favored recipients. Earmarks are typically obscure provisions in must-pass spending bills, so individual items rarely get a specific up or down vote. Last year, Congress approved more than 9,000 earmarks worth an estimated $16 billion.
Lead co-sponsors of the act include Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona, and Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Introduced in May, the bill has attracted a lengthy list of Senate co-sponsors, including 11 Republicans and eight Democrats. The co-sponsors span the ideological spectrum, and include California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Nonprofits like Americans for Tax Reform and the Sunlight Foundation also support the act.
President Barack Obama is not listed as a co-sponsor, of course, but he might as well be, having challenged Congress during his State of the Union address in January to “publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.” Coburn and Obama have a notable history of working together to make government spending more transparent, having cosponsored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, aka Coburn-Obama, which put most federal spending within a few mouse clicks on the Internet at USASpending.gov.
If approved, the act would require Congress to do just what Obama suggested by establishing a publicly available database with key details about all proposed earmarks, including the congressional sponsor, the sponsor’s letter requesting the earmark and all supporting documents, identity of the recipient, the amount proposed, the purpose of the earmark, the amount approved in committee and the final amount approved by Congress. Some of this information is presently available, but often is extremely difficult to find. That problem would be remedied by the act’s requirement that all of the information be pooled in one searchable and downloadable database.
Coburn, who has long called earmarks the “gateway drug to federal-spending addiction,” said the act is an essential reform because Americans “want the practice of trading votes for earmarks to end, and they want the process of trading campaign dollars for earmarks to end. From Bridges to Nowhere to the Cornhusker Kickback, Americans are tired of Washington using hard-earned taxpayer funding on items that fall short of urgent national priorities, and they want to lift the shroud of secrecy over how spending decisions are made.”
We agree. Congress should enact the bill without delay.