Morning Bell: Real Change Through Limited Government

Conn Carroll /

Bringing ‘change’ to Washington is a popular buzzword for candidates from both parties in Iowa today. But Americans have been promised ‘change’ countless times before only to be disappointed and the most recent Congress is a case study in failure to deliver on real change in Washington. While the 110th Congress did pass the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, as The New York Times reports today, “Congressional Crackdown on Lobbying Is Already Showing Cracks.” The Times goes on to try and place the blame for the law’s failure on divisions at the FEC, but anyone who actually does business in Washington knows how charmingly naïve the legislation was to begin with.

Shortly after passage, Wonkette’s ‘Ask a Lobbyist’ correspondent responded to a reader asking if the law provided the “fundamental change” its proponents claimed: “Well, let me turn this around on you. Do you think that lobbyists will operate significantly differently because they have to file quarterly instead of semiannually? … Do you think forcing all receptions to be plate-less will really affect a Member’s vote one way or the other? … In my opinion, the legislation is designed to make Members’ constituents feel they’ve done something; to make lobbyists’ lives more of a pain; and to affect mostly the little crap that some staffers felt made the really low salaries more tolerable. But, maybe it is really groundbreaking ethics reform. You tell me.”

As if trying to prove that business as usual had not been changed at all, the 110th Congress rolled all 11 appropriations bill into one 3,417 page omnibus bill laden with $23 billion in 9,000 earmarks. Betraying all their talk on transparency, Congress voted on the three foot high print out of the bill a mere 22 hours after the text was first available. For Members of Congress to have read this bill, they would have had to read the bill at a rate of 2½ pages per minute for Representatives and 1¼ pages per minute for Senators, without stopping to sleep or eat. No one could have read this bill before voting on it.While the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) is a step in the right direction, only by attacking the source of the problem, the bloated federal government, can we hope to return government to the people. Two policies that would bring real change to Washing ton are: 1. Banning pork projects; 2. Simplifying the tax code.Congress has a proper role in determining the rules, eligibility, and benefit criteria for federal grant programs. However, allowing lawmakers to select exactly who receives government grants invites corruption. Lawmakers hooked on pork come to see their job as maximizing the amount of federal dollars they can bring home, rather than reforming and improving government. Congress should enact a permanent prohibition against legislation that specifies which businesses, organizations, and locations will receive federal grants. With this prohibition in place, grant-seekers will actually have to justify their projects to federal and state agencies, and lawmakers will be free to rein in runaway government and provide proper oversight.

Finally, as George Will details today, tax reform is also political reform: “Reform should do what was done in 1986 — simplify, paying for lower rates by closing loopholes. Serious simplification would, in effect, confiscate much of the intellectual capital of those lobbyists — they are legion — who live high on the hog by entreating Congress to tweak the tax code for the benefit of clients.”Special interests lobby Washington for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks. By limiting the governments power to pick winners and losers, less special interests will find it worthwhile throw money and resources around Washington.Quick Hits: