# Congressional Reform

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turbo
Gold Member
Again, the Post only links to FOX's story, and the politico link does nothing to address the letter. I find it hard to believe that none of the mainstream news networks can manage to confirm the existence of the FOX letter. There are lots of disenchanted Dems on the hill, and the knives are out.

mheslep
Gold Member
I heard this afternoon one congressman talking about cutting federal expenditures by $350 billion over 10 years! That's peanuts - unless he means cutting$350 billion each year for ten years. To get anywhere near a balanced budget, congress has to cut by $1 trillion / yr - or ~7% of the GDP. That's likely the CACW plan and yes it is indeed$350B in the first year. Total cuts $2.17T in five years. http://www.cagw.org/reports/prime-cuts/2010/prime-cuts-savings.html [Broken] Total Savings for Each Department/Agency One-year savings ($ in millions) Five-year savings (\$ in millions)
Department of Agriculture 17,604 93,877
Department of Commerce 3,369 20,848
Department of Defense 24,173 234,900
Department of Education 24,703 111,396
Department of Energy 1,965 18,897
Department of Health and Human Services 69,509 609,298
Department of Homeland Security 5,412 27,729
Department of Housing and
Urban Development 8,537 52,286
Department of the Interior 1,950 12,470
Department of Justice 4,008 22,980
Department of Labor 2,494 23,564
Department of State 2,936 15,652
Department of Transportation 27,509 145,123
Department of the Treasury 37,375 196,557
Department of Veterans Affairs 3,715 23,433
Environmental Protection Agency 570 5,600
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 1,212 4,960
National Aeronautics and
United States Postal Service 2,200 6,500
Foreign Aid and Export Financing 4,544 18,420
Other Independent Agencies 8,776 67,490
Government-wide and Multi-agency
Recommendations 85,673 319,640
Legislative Branch 149 5,545
Total Savings 349,942 2,176,071

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turbo
Gold Member
Congressional reform should take the shape of real rule-change and restructuring. No earmarks, no amendments that are not germaine the bill at hand. No more secret holds in the Senate, no more filibustering. And no more thousand-plus-page omnibus bills. Every bill, and every nominee gets an up-or-down vote, by roll-call if necessary, so that those responsible for killing good bills and stalling decent nominees have to publicly stand by their actions.

Would you elaborate on "surgical" (usually this would mean the opposite of deep) and "artificially" (so I understand what other things you're claiming to oppose)?
A "deep surgical" cut would be one that doesn't just trim spending - it would eliminate (select) wasteful programs in their entirety.

btw - My guess is the first 3 to 5 programs defended in the next few posts would be good candidates.

talk2glenn
Congressional reform should take the shape of real rule-change and restructuring. No earmarks, no amendments that are not germaine the bill at hand. No more secret holds in the Senate, no more filibustering. And no more thousand-plus-page omnibus bills. Every bill, and every nominee gets an up-or-down vote, by roll-call if necessary, so that those responsible for killing good bills and stalling decent nominees have to publicly stand by their actions.
None of these ideas has any merit.

How does one define the "germaineity" of an amendment? Whether or not turbo-1 thinks it belongs, I'm guessing?

How does one define an "earmark"? A conditional appropriation of money for a specific purpose? Err...that's Congress' principle constitutionally defined power. When you say "banning earmarks", what you really mean is "banning Congress from spending money on things turbo-1 doesn't agree with".

The filibuster was the only thing that kept the United States afloat over the past two years; have you taken a serious look at some of the nonsense that passed Pelosi's house? When Republicans retake all three branches two years from now, I sincerely doubt you'll continue to desire its elimination. The Senate was designed to be an imposing barrier between the tides and ruminations of radical populism, as manifested in the House, and the Federal codex. It's capacity to protect has already been diminished by direct election; you propose to all but eliminate it through abolition of the filibuster. This is short sighted and foolish. Good legislation shouldn't have such a hard time acquiring the votes of 60% of the conservative chamber; the Senate is notoriously, and again by design, easy to manipulate through vote buying (the amendment process you also propose to eliminate - insertion of moderating sections to appease the interests of a handful of stodgy old men).

Do they teach any civics in public school? The legislative branch of government was brilliantly designed - it's only genuine shortcoming is a lack of term limits on the House.

turbo
Gold Member
How does one define an "earmark"? A conditional appropriation of money for a specific purpose? Err...that's Congress' principle constitutionally defined power. When you say "banning earmarks", what you really mean is "banning Congress from spending money on things turbo-1 doesn't agree with".
An earmark is a way for congressional members to tack pork onto bills that are entirely unrelated to the favors they want to hand out. Do you not appreciate that? At some point, we need to rein in this crap, or our country will be destroyed by our representantives' prostitution to powers with the most money. Some TP members seem to appreciate this, though the most vocal members appear to have been fired up to be used as tools by the neo-cons to actually perpetuate this perversion. We really do need congressional reform.

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mheslep
Gold Member
There's a long record available to show how earmarks differ from the general appropriation process in clearly distinguishable ways, so there's no need to shrug when asked to define one. Typically earmarks see no public hearing or other review, have little or no connection to the primary purpose of the legislation to which they are attached, and are often inserted at the last minute. So while the Constitution grants Congress collectively the power to appropriate, for each Congressman individually it guarantees nothing except a right to vote on behalf of district or state. The Constitution certainly does not grant each congressman the right to draft his/her own piece legislation. Congress is free to choose its own rules in regards to the crafting of legislation. It seems to me and many that earmarks corrupt that process through petty bribery, and in this turn at the plate I hope this Congress will choose rules that eliminate earmarks.

All of these problems can be solved by limiting the size and scope of Bills - force them to focus on specifics (actually read the legislation) and vote often.

CRGreathouse
Homework Helper
It seems to me and many that earmarks corrupt that process through petty bribery, and in this turn at the plate I hope this Congress will choose rules that eliminate earmarks.
Yes, this is my concern as well. The actual amount of money used on earmarks is not particularly significant, but it has a strong corrupting influence.

talk2glenn
There's a long record available to show how earmarks differ from the general appropriation process in clearly distinguishable ways, so there's no need to shrug when asked to define one. Typically earmarks see no public hearing or other review, have little or no connection to the primary purpose of the legislation to which they are attached, and are often inserted at the last minute. So while the Constitution grants Congress collectively the power to appropriate, for each Congressman individually it guarantees nothing except a right to vote on behalf of district or state. The Constitution certainly does not grant each congressman the right to draft his/her own piece legislation. Congress is free to choose its own rules in regards to the crafting of legislation. It seems to me and many that earmarks corrupt that process through petty bribery, and in this turn at the plate I hope this Congress will choose rules that eliminate earmarks.
M, I appreciate that your heart is in the right place, and that this idea sound really good to you, but like most such things, the truth is not as idyllic as the principle. First, I absolutely agree that the appropriations process should be more strictly scrutinized and money for conservatively allocated. However, the process is already in place to do this - majority voting means you need at least half the Congress to consent before you can spend a dime, and bipartisan committees have broad authority to filter and restrict legislation before it reaches the floor. We tend to react to crisis - real and imagined - with the creation of new rules and new bureaucracies to enforce them, when the problem was already governed by rules and bureaucrats before hand. This is constant. We did it with ill thought out security legislation after 9/11 (and I don't mean PATRIOT), and with the wholly unnecessary consumer protection and financial reform legislation after the credit crash. No need to apply the same conduct to something as integral and, frankly, well designed as the legislative system.

Now, let me address ear marks specifically. The idea is great; Congress shouldn't push earmarks through under the table. So, how do we go about banning them, and who enforces the ban?

Congress could do it legislatively. Assuming such a law even passes Constitutional muster (unlikely in the extreme), it would give standing to every American resident to sue to block every new law that directed the appropriation of money. The Court, at a loss for an objective means of defining earmarks, would probably apply a "reasonable person" test - would a reasonable person conclude that this particular appropriation met the criteria, whatever they might be, for an earmark. This sounds fine, except that it's subjective. Anybody could argue that about anything, and the court would have to sort it out. You think things are slow and inefficient now?

Congress could instead do it through rule making, and self policing. Ok, great, so who decides now? How about a majority of the Congress? Er, well, that's already how it works - every piece of new legislation has to be debated by the Congress, and then passed by that Congress. The particular rules vary between House and Senate, but the steps are there. How about requiring small, bipartisan committees, specialized to particular topics and with special access to technical details of the field, to review and approve new piece of legislation as to relevance and function? Er, well, that's also already how it works, through the Congressional committee system.

See what I'm trying to say? The system doesn't need any new rules; the rules are already in place to give Congress numerous chances to review, amend, debate, and finally pass new legislation. No one Congressmen can insert his own language in the dead of night without telling anyone else, and then force Congress to vote on it without debate. This is pure mythology. Individual congressmen might want you to believe that, to escape responsibility for their individual votes, but it is not the case, except to the extent that Congress itself abdicates its responsibility voluntarily because they'd rather not know (see the healthcare bill).

Can you offer any concrete, objectively enforceable amendments or additions to existing rules that would make the process less likely to result in "bad" versus "good" appropriations? Again, simply saying "it needs to be relevant" doesn't cut it; who decides whats relevant and not, and why is that person more qualified than the persons who do so now (individuals, followed by committees, followed by the whole congress)? Congress isn't spending this money in this way despite the public; it's spending it because of the public. People demand that Congressmen bring home as much money as possible to their districts. When that changes, Congressmen will stop. Right now, the system is just representing the electorate. Isn't that the point? And is it really a bad thing? If the government wants to build a new base, it has to happen somewhere. Who decides? Congress could just fund it and let the Executive decide, but why is that somehow less inherently politically risky or more transparent? Doesn't leaving it to Congress (which is popular and debates openly and methodically), and then locking the decision into law so it can't be changed later, have some advantages in terms of "transparency" and "debate" versus leaving it to a bureaucrat somewhere?

mheslep
Gold Member
M, I appreciate that your heart is in the right place, and that this idea sound really good to you, but like most such things, the truth is not as idyllic as the principle.
Well that's one reason why we have discussion forums w/ guidelines, because neither you nor I have a monopoly on the truth.

talk2glenn said:
Now, let me address ear marks specifically. The idea is great; Congress shouldn't push earmarks through under the table. So, how do we go about banning them, and who enforces the ban?
[...]
Congress could instead do it through rule making, and self policing. Ok, great, so who decides now? How about a majority of the Congress? Er, well, that's already how it works - every piece of new legislation has to be debated by the Congress, and then passed by that Congress. The particular rules vary between House and Senate, but the steps are there. How about requiring small, bipartisan committees, specialized to particular topics and with special access to technical details of the field, to review and approve new piece of legislation as to relevance and function? Er, well, that's also already how it works, through the Congressional committee system.
[...]
No one Congressmen can insert his own language in the dead of night without telling anyone else, and then force Congress to vote on it without debate.
Yes frequently that is almost exactly what happens, earmarks go in in the 'dead of night', especially for committee chairmen. No Congress is not required by the Constitution to debate anything, nor required to read legislation, and sometimes it does neither. No earmarks often do not even appear in final legislation, appearing instead in conference reports, and are thus sometimes not even voted upon on the floor, but are none the less funded and executed by federal agencies.

Novak in Townhall.com said:
[Senator] DeMint asserted that NOAA and other federal agencies are under no obligation to fund earmarks stuck in congressional reports in the dark of night on Capitol Hill. "I agree that it's not legally required," Lautenbacher replied, "but it is in fact a practice that has been in place for many, many years."
http://townhall.com/columnists/RobertNovak/2006/03/27/how_to_erase_earmarks

Sourcewatch said:
The earmarking process today

On paper, earmarks are intended to go through a public process. Lawmakers recognize needs which exist in their respective states or districts, and submit a written request to the appropriate congressional subcommittee asking for the panel’s support. In reality, however, earmarks are often not judged on their merit. Rather, earmarks are typically handed out as favors in exchange for votes on key pieces of legislation by party leaders and appropriations chairmen.
In addition, earmarks are rarely considered by the entire U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate during the construction of a bill. Rather, they are often added during the conference phase, which is when House and Senate leaders meet to iron-out the differences in their respective pieces of legislation on a particular issue. Following the conference, both houses must approve the legislation again, but if a member wishes to oppose a particular earmark, he/she must vote against the entire bill in order to do so. Given that most earmarks are inserted into massive pieces of legislation which fund the federal government, members of Congress are often reluctant to oppose them simply over an earmark. In addition, through the process of logrolling, members often agree to support a bill with another’s earmark in exchange for the same treatment. The result is bills with hundreds, if not thousands, of specifically-directed funding projects. Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said that 98 percent of earmarks to appropriations bills in 2005 were added in the conference phase.
When passed legislation reaches the president’s desk, a similar problem arises. Not wishing to stall the budgetary process or risk a public relations backlash for rejecting a bill for transportation or defense appropriations, presidents are often forced to sign bills loaded with earmarks.
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Earmarks [Broken]

Also note that earmarks at this scale are a contemporary phenonmenon, not seen before the days of a Leviathon federal government.
SourceWatch said:
Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent watchdog organization, has argued that widespread earmarking is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics. The organization cites the evolution of earmarks since the 1970s. The 1970 Defense Appropriations Bill had a dozen earmarks; the 1980 bill had 62; and by 2005, the defense bill included 2,671. Among the earmarks in the 2005 bill was money to eradicate brown tree snakes in Guam. [2]

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talk2glenn
Following the conference, both houses must approve the legislation again
See my point. Wherever the appropriation is added - in whatever phase - the bill must return to the floor for debate and a vote before becoming law. Again, where is the specific problem, and what is the proposed solution?

You could eliminate the conference system, and simply require both houses to pass identical legislation. I wouldn't really have a problem with that, but if the goal is to increase congressional efficiency, this is a really bad idea.

mheslep
Gold Member
See my point.
No.

townhall said:
A March 6 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) said more than 95 percent of all earmarks were not written into law but were merely contained in the reports of congressional committees and legislative managers.
Again, where is the specific problem, and what is the proposed solution?
Proposed solution: return to rules in place prior to the 70's, and stop this.

Staff Emeritus
Democrats pressing Pelosi to step aside
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101111/ap_on_go_co/us_democratic_turmoil [Broken]

. . . . a growing number of the rank and file [democrats] say they won't support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a politically symbolic roll call when the new Congress meets in January.

"The reality is that she is politically toxic," said Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, . . . .

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Staff Emeritus
Running as a Republican with little money in a district controlled by Democrats for decades, Mr. Schilling was initially received about as warmly as a stink bug. “The party folks in Washington were kind of like, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ ” he said.

But his perseverance intersected with incumbent disenchantment and now Mr. Schilling, who owns a pizza restaurant, is among roughly 35 incoming members of the House — and four new senators — who have never been elected to anything. “I’m a story that never should have happened,” said Mr. Schilling, 46, soon to represent a giant squiggle of west Illinois.

. . . .
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/us/politics/12freshman.html

This years freshmen (newbies) will be next season incumbents. It will be interesting to see how many are re-elected, and for how long. Will there be substantial reform and increased fiscal discipline? Or will they adapt to the entrenched party system?

talk2glenn
Proposed solution: return to rules in place prior to the 70's, and stop this.
Err, what? It is true that the growth in earmarking can be traced back to the early 70's defense appropriation bills. It is absolutely not true that this policy change was due to any change in congressional rules or structure.

In fact, most of the rules related to earmarking created in the last 30-40 years were efforts to restrict their use. Your proposed "reform" would have the effect of making earmarking easier, not more difficult.

Earmarks reflect a change in political trends (expansion of the role of government into most every sector of the economy, and dramatic growth in governments share of the economy), not institutional structure. When government had a much more limited role and budget, earmarks still existed - there was just far less incentive for their drafting.

Err, what? It is true that the growth in earmarking can be traced back to the early 70's defense appropriation bills. It is absolutely not true that this policy change was due to any change in congressional rules or structure.

In fact, most of the rules related to earmarking created in the last 30-40 years were efforts to restrict their use. Your proposed "reform" would have the effect of making earmarking easier, not more difficult.

Earmarks reflect a change in political trends (expansion of the role of government into most every sector of the economy, and dramatic growth in governments share of the economy), not institutional structure. When government had a much more limited role and budget, earmarks still existed - there was just far less incentive for their drafting.
I'll say it again - the answer is smaller Bills with clarity and focus - not hocus-pocus (that's new).

turbo
Gold Member
I'll say it again - the answer is smaller Bills with clarity and focus - not hocus-pocus (that's new).
And no non-germane amendments or pork added. Bring them out of committee to the floor for an up-or-down vote with no filibusters or secret holds or other obstructionism. Congress badly needs to be hosed out - a Herculean task.

talk2glenn
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1110/45023.html

Here's an article that reiterates my point regarding the demagoguery of targeted congressional appropriations (aka "earmarks"). It was written by a Republican Senator, granted, so he may have an obvious incentive to protect his appropriations process, but the arguments are sound.

An attack on the appropriations process is pure political theater - it makes for good tv, but is the very definition of style over substance. To return to my previous analogy, the Defense Department is getting its new base; the difference with or without an earmark ban is whether Obama picks where or congress picks where - an insignificant distinction in the long run (it is debatable whether Obama or the Defense Subcommittee would choose more wisely, but the Pentagon would wield tremendous influence in either case).

mheslep
Gold Member
, but the arguments are sound.
.
He makes one argument (the rest are assertions): that the detailed spending authority will transfer to the Executive, a concern but unpersuasive. My arguments are sounder. Kill the earmarks.

talk2glenn
He makes one argument (the rest are assertions): that the detailed spending authority will transfer to the Executive, a concern but unpersuasive. My arguments are sounder. Kill the earmarks.
M, you don't have an argument. You suggested rolling back the rules to the way they were in 1970, which would ease the earmarking process, not make it harder. You haven't defined earmarks objectively (the only working definition, "fiscal appropriations for specific projects" could be used to define the entire federal budget - how specific does the word "specific" entale?). You haven't proposed a specific reform to the congressional rules to provide additional appropriations oversight than is already in place, or a specific rule that as written would prevent Congress outright from appropriating "earmarks" while preserving Congress' authority to appropriate generally.

You just repeat meaningless catch phrases like "kill the earmarks". What this means is anybodys guess. Perhaps it's like porn - "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it". Good luck with that. This is exactly my point - meaningless gestures that enable politicans to ignore the real problems while generating good soundbites.

That Obama, the most spendthrift chief executive in American history, is in favor of a "ban on earmarks" tells you all you need to know.

mheslep
Gold Member
Staff Emeritus
Staff Emeritus