It seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) today released a list of earmarks worth more than $500 million added to the FY 2013 Continuing Resolution that is slated to fund the government for the rest of the year. With a $16.7 trillion debt and a deficit eclipsing the $800 billion mark, the Senate should be ashamed for adding more these earmarks to the FY 2013 Continuing Resolution. Earmarks have been the bribery currency of Congress for many years, as both parties used them to buy votes, bring federal dollars to their district and ultimately get re-elected. Former members of Congress including Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) were sent to jail for accepting bribes to secure earmarks. Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff also spent time in jail in connection with earmarks promised to clients.Earmarks circumvent established budgetary processes and procedures and further exacerbate taxpayers’ cynicism of Washington, D.C. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has called earmarks “the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington.” In 2010, the House and Senate agreed to a two year moratorium on earmarks, yet there were reports of Congress backsliding on this promise - with earmarks being found in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills. It is time for Congress to be serious about eliminating earmarks for good by passing legislation like S. 1930, the Earmark Elimination Act, which was proposed in 2012 by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). S. 1930 would have permanently killed earmarks and given life to fiscal responsibility.
Just when taxpayers’ faith in Congress reaches a low point, a beacon of light shines through this week when Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Claire Mc Caskill (D-Mo.) reintroduced legislation that would end the procedure of automatic annual pay raises for members of Congress. Ok, that opening sentence was a bit dramatic but the fact is that any good news coming out of Washington should be embraced and celebrated. Existing law provides automatic pay adjustments for members of Congress every year, regardless of what they do right, or nowadays more like what they do wrong, the members get a pay bump automatically to adjust for cost of living increases. It would be nice if everybody received a guaranteed raise. The problem is that in the real world this concept is completely unconceivable. But that quality seems to fit with a lot of what Congress does these days. There’s one more catch with the current law governing these pay increases. Under the current law, members never have to go on record and admit they think they’re deserving of this raise. What this fact demonstrates is that members of Congress are not always as clueless as they appear. When it comes to protecting their own interests, it’s shocking how well they know what to do. And that is precisely why the law that’s currently on the books does not force them to vote, or go on record, for a raise. If they had to reveal their intentions by publically casting a vote, you bet they’d reconsider what their vote should be. The bottom line is that the current arrangement removes the transparency and accountability that all constituents deserve when it comes to the actions of the members of Congress that they elected. If members of Congress think they deserve a raise then they should have the chutzpah to come out and state it publically. And fortunately, Sens. Vitter and Mc Caskill agree.
On Tuesday November 27, 2012, President Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) was a proud member of a bi-partisan coalition pushing for the reform. The passage of the bill was a long-fought victory for whistleblowers and taxpayers since whistleblowers are the best defense against waste, fraud, and abuse. On November 28, TPA joined with nine other groups to voice our strong support for Amendment 2942 to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA), introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Based on the Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act of 2011 (S. 241, H.R. 6406), this amendment would bridge the wide gaps in current coverage and comprehensively apply best-practice whistleblower protections to all federal fund recipient employees. On Thursday November 29, the amendment passed by unanimous consent. Yet another victory for taxpayers and whistleblowers.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is on track to supplant Disney® as the Happiest Place on Earth with a million dollar Vegas extravaganza in 2010 (read more here) and now a report that 84 GSA employees received $1.1 million in bonuses since 2008. The question is whether these folks are extraordinary workers or their bosses are incredibly generous. The issue though isn’t really about the motivation behind bonuses. The problem is about who received the bonuses and where the money for the bonuses came from, the taxpayer. After peeling the surface back further, we learn that the employees received the bonuses “while the inspector general was probing these individuals for wrongdoing or misconduct,” as Federal Radio News reported.
On March 30, 2012, Reuters published an article “House Republicans discuss reviving earmarks,” that some taxpayers thought was an early April Fool’s Day joke. According to the article, “In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, [Mike] Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago. Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.” He was not alone. “Rogers' remarks in the closed caucus meeting in early March were echoed by two other Republican lawmakers, Representatives Louie Gohmert [Texas] and Kay Granger [Texas], according to some at the meeting.” The sad truth is that Rep. Rogers (et al) said what many Republicans (and Democrats) have been thinking.