Earmarks Should Require an Itemized Receipt

When our teenage son shops online with our credit card, my wife and I
expect to see an itemized receipt.

We trust him. He's a good, upstanding young man. The itemized receipt
confirms it.

Taxpayers should expect the same of Congress.

Because there is no itemized receipt for how Members of Congress want
to spend taxpayer money, the explosion of earmarks in recent years has
undermined taxpayers' trust in Congress.

Earmark abuse has led to numerous scandals and investigations. In
some cases, it has taken Congressmen from the back bench, to the front
page, and straight to the penitentiary.

Transparency, accountability, and rigorous oversight are the keys to
cutting waste, fraud, and abuse in government. They are also the keys
to regaining taxpayers' trust.

After pledging to "drain the swamp," Speaker Nancy Pelosi enacted new
rules at the start of the last Congress requiring earmark sponsors to
be identified alongside their earmarks in spending bills. Then, in
February of this year, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey set
forth new guidelines asking Members to post their earmark requests
online when submitting them to his Committee for consideration.

Taken at face value, these reforms deserve our applause.
Unfortunately, they do not work.

Because it is common for House leadership to bring spending bills to
the floor only hours after the legislative text is released, there is
often insufficient time to appropriately vet every earmark.

Furthermore, as The Hill newspaper reported

, more than 70 Members failed to comply with Chairman Obey's new
disclosure guidelines, and many who did comply were guilty of "using
vague language to describe their earmark requests, burying their
request links deep within their webpages and/or sprinkling each of
their requests among a host of legislative issue pages."

Working with the Sunlight Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense,
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) and I introduced House Resolution
440 to remedy these problems and strengthen transparency and
accountability in the earmarking process by:

  1. Requiring Members to disclose their earmark requests on their websites and include a homepage link to their disclosures using the word "earmark;"
  2. Requiring that Members maintain the disclosure link on their homepages for at least 30 days and requiring that disclosure pagesremain online for the remainder of the Congressional Session;
  3. Requiring any Committee accepting earmark requests to maintain a searchable online database of Members' earmark requests; and
  4. Prohibiting consideration of legislation containing earmarks that does not satisfy the above requirements.

These reforms will empower taxpayers, the press, and Congressional
watchdogs with the tools they need to hold Congress accountable and
cut out wasteful spending.

For example, you can go to my website right now and look at
the itemized receipt for my highway bill requests. If you don't think
they constitute an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, you can hold
me accountable for them.

Earmark friends and foes alike stand to gain from more transparency
and accountability.

For anti-earmarkers, real transparency and accountability is an end in itself.

Earmarkers gain at least as much. Not only does transparency draw
attention to quality earmarks, it also helps earmarkers escape from
the cloud of suspicion that undermines what are often good faith
efforts to support worthy projects.

In my six months in the House, I've found that my colleagues are
generally good, upstanding citizens who work hard to do what's right
for the people they serve. Giving taxpayers real accountability and
transparency through itemized receipts for earmark requests would
confirm it.