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March 28, 2007

Comments

Can we take the fact that Mr. Obey does not consider himself an individual as proof that he is, in fact, a Cylon?

Twelve years takes us nearly back to 1994 - what was the old way of doing things? Have both sides been happy with the current CRS procedures?

Weird - I just tried to google Daniel Mullohan and only got current news - when I did "-memo" I got noise.


"This threatens to turn the CRS from a policy research arm which is intended to aid general and public understanding into a propaganda arm of the ruling party of Congress."

I'm lacking on the purpose-of-CRS background, but if any conservative wants to get product X from CRS can't they just ask any conservative member of Congress?

Wikipedia says (currently?):

"The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works exclusively and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis. In fiscal year 2003, CRS had a budget of $86,386,812 funded mostly by taxpayer dollars.1 CRS reports are not made directly available to members of the public. Instead, the public must request individual reports from their Senators and Representatives in Congress, or purchase them from private vendors such as Penny Hill Press.2 A limited number of reports have been made freely available on the web by federal agencies, Members of Congress, educational institutions, and nongovernmental organizations.3" [em. added]

Yikes it's late.

And Penny Hill Press says:

"However, by long tradition and congressional rules, the CRS does not distribute its reports to the public. It does not even have a publicly accessible Web site.

As a result, CRS reports are among the most elusive and coveted information products in Washington."

Too late to assess if this is at all relevant if one can just buy the reports or is consistent with the ask-your-Congresscritter suggestion I made above.

Rilkefan --

Isn't this the more relevant point?

But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS)--a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency--has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks.

(From the WSJ Op-Ed quoted above)

From the WSJ Op-Ed

From the notoriously biased and factually-challenged WSJ Op-Ed page...

it's worth pointing out.

And even the notoriously biased WSJ added language which casts light on this which Sebastian did not quote:

"Today squeeze plays on CRS are not uncommon, and they have come from both parties. In the 1990s, GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey was so angry with a CRS report questioning the workability of a flat tax that he temporarily zeroed out the agency's budget. Rep. Henry Waxman, as a member of a Democratic minority, demanded and got revisions to CRS reports on how prescription drug pricing rules in his bills would work. "Everyone expects Waxman and others to be even more insistent on getting what they want now [that he's in the majority]," says another CRS staffer."

Note the subtle equivalence drawn between Armey's ire at a CRS determination leading to zeroing out CRS's budget for not agreeing with his preferred conclusions (of course, no improper pressure there) and how Waxman "demanded and got revisions to CRS reports" without any overt suggestion that either the changes sought were imcorrect or that he used improper pressure to get them while a member of the minority.

From the notoriously biased and factually-challenged WSJ Op-Ed page...

This reminds me of a partner in my office who says (only somewhat jokingly) that he considers the conclusion reached in every piece of guidance issued by the IRS in the 1970s to be wrong until proven otherwise - given the quality of the personnel there at the time. I've gotten to the same point with the WSJ editorial page and most of their Op-Ed contributors - wrong until proven otherwise.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, not a noted conservative, is the one who's brought this to the attention of the 'sunlight community'. There's no indication whatsoever that Democratic Congressional leadership has anything to do with Mullohan's decision, which has upset a lot of people who don't read the WSJ editorial page.

There's an organized effort by a group of Sunlight Foundation-related organizations and others to get CRS to make its reports more available. There's been resistance from the director's office for years. It's hard to believe that making this into some kind of partisan plot will be helpful in getting Mullohan to reverse course.

The Joint Committee on the Library would seem like the natural place to start with sharing opinions on this.

From the 95th Congress forward, the Joint Committee on the Library has been composed of the chairman (or designee) and four members each from the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Committee on House Administration. The chairmanship and vice chairmanship alternate between the House and Senate every Congress.

current Senate members:
Feinstein, Dianne (D-CA)
Dodd, Christopher (D-CT)
Schumer, Charles (D-NY)
Bennett, Robert (R-UT)
Stevens, Ted (R-AK)

current House members:
{not clear, but I have a call in}
Millender-Martinez (D-CA)
Lofgren (D-CA)
D
R
R

Here are the House Members:
Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI)
Dan Lungren (R-CA)

Also, to clarify, because I left off the blockquote tags by accident: the paragraph beginning 'From the 95th Congress on...' is from the LOC's own site, not my words.

The committee is who confirms the director of the CRS, who's appointed by the Librarian of Congress.

Thanks, Nell.

If the WSJ editorial board is not believed among the readers of ObWi, perhaps Nell's cite will.

At bottom, it doesn't matter whether this new initiative was pushed through by the Democratic leadership, a rogue member of Congress, misguided folks at the CRS, or the local Shriners' lodge. It's a bad idea and should be stopped.

Porking up these troop funding bills is just disgusting IMO. $100 million for security for the 08 conventions – yeah that’s what we need in this bill.

What I haven’t figured out is if the usual suspects are just taking advantage of the opportunity with a “must pass” bill, or if votes are being traded for pork.

OCSteve, I think it's vote trading. The votes are those of conservative Dems, I believe: In the House and Senate the two Republican crossover votes on the supplemental were made on the basis of the withdrawal timeline itself, not because of particular spending provisions.

OCSteve, I think it's vote trading. The votes are those of conservative Dems, I believe: In the House and Senate the two Republican crossover votes on the supplemental were made on the basis of the withdrawal timeline itself, not because of particular spending provisions.

I should say that I completely support making CRS reports available to everyone. However, this has not always been the case. That's why it was such a wonderful thing when I discovered the OpenCRS website, which collects CRS reports that people have gotten and puts them on the web. From their 'About' page:

"American taxpayers spend nearly $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service, a "think tank" that provides reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. Yet, these reports are not made available to the public in a way that they can be easily obtained. A project of the Center for Democracy & Technology, Open CRS provides citizens access to CRS Reports that are already in the public domain and encourages Congress to provide public access to all CRS Reports.

CRS Reports do not become public until a member of Congress releases the report. A number of libraries and non-profit organizations have sought to collect as many of the released reports as possible. Open CRS is a centralized utility that brings together these collections to search."

And from their FAQ:

"Why doesn't the Congressional Research Service make its reports available to the public on the web?

The Congressional Research Service strongly believes that its sole purpose is to directly serve Congress and not the public. CRS views attempts to make available to the public reports that it creates as something other than its statutory authority to communicate with and for Congress. We disagree. We are not asking CRS to disclose anything, we only seek to have Congress disclose (at the discretion on individual representatives) communications between CRS and Congress that are not classified or confidential in nature. This should not create any more work for CRS or force employees of CRS to communicate with anyone other than Congress."

Not enough coffee; I've spelled the CRS director's name wrong: it's Mulhollan.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, not a noted conservative, is the one who's brought this to the attention of the 'sunlight community'.

fair enough.

i still claim the right to derisively dismiss anything written on the WSJ Op-Ed pages, or OpinionJournal.com. they are only correct by accident.

"i still claim the right to derisively dismiss anything written on the WSJ Op-Ed pages, or OpinionJournal.com. they are only correct by accident."

That's nice. And now that we've established that they are correct in this instance, do you have any further comments about the wisdom of failing to track earmarks and letting the House Appropriations Chairman track them under Humpty-Dumpty definitions.

And I think the key to the "not sharing" crackdown is not that they aren't sharing with the public, but rather that they aren't sharing with governmental agencies or the judiciary without much stricter controls anymore.

Well, I agree with Sebastian and Von on the general thrust of their objections.

However, I've never been able to define "pork" exactly, though I suppose I recognize egregious examples of it when I see them.

To the extent that pork is the lubricant that tends to sluice the business of getting bills through Congress (vote-trading), I wonder how the world would work without it.

I don't believe I've ever come across a human organization that didn't require bad-tasting compromise, offers you can't refuse, and back-scratching. Would the world work better if everyone stuck to their pristine principles? I think it would look like the rough section of Baghdad.

I'm all for sunlight, however.

By the way, after what we have seen of money wasted, missing, stolen, diverted, and Cunnighammed and Cheneyed in these Iraq funding requests, I'm pretty sure the "pork" add-ons are cleaner than the substance of the bills.

The WSJ editorial page has been pretty consistent on their objections to pork, I'll give them that. Too bad they include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and NPR under the definition.

Anyway, I think I'm coming down with anthrax and I can't decide whether or not Mitchell Wade can secure my communications.

Seb, two points. Nell stated "There's no indication whatsoever that Democratic Congressional leadership has anything to do with Mullohan's decision, which has upset a lot of people who don't read the WSJ editorial page."

Also, he was appointed back in the 90's.

My point here is that it may not necessarily be the fault of the nasty Dems, which is the thrust of the WSJ article, if not actually stated.

Secondly, I think everybody here has pretty well stated in the past that anonymous earmarks are not good, and decried their usage no matter which side of the aisle is doing it.

Despite what Sen. Coburn says or believes, there is apparently no evidence that this is a Democratic plot.

There are multiple sources and I use the following which also links to other resources:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html

So, who is asking for the clampdown if it is a real one?

And now that we've established that they are correct in this instance, do you have any further comments about the wisdom of failing to track earmarks and letting the House Appropriations Chairman track them under Humpty-Dumpty definitions.

oh i dunno... i was kinda planning to spend the day filling-up the thread about some arcane Clinton-related issues - no matter how many people try to steer me back on topic. ahem.

but, if you insist: i'm sure if blogs scream about this loud enough and long enough to get the MSM interested, Congress would change its evil ways. until then... we're spending $650,000,000,000 per year on the military, not counting the hundreds of billions of "supplementals" on the neverending War On Eastasia. earmarks ? how much money are we really talking about here ?

I'm open to the idea that this clampdown may have been inspired by Democratic members of Congress, but I need more than John Fund's insinuations to back that up.

My point in bringing up Steven Aftergood's post is that there has been unhappiness with the CRS' resistance to opening up access to the product it provides to Congress for some time. Now it's taken a sharp turn for the worse.

If you're concerned about earmarks, jump on members of the appropriations committee to make that information available. I noticed at the end of a Hill article on the supplemental fight recently that Obey has greatly extended the deadline for members to submit earmark requests. If I didn't think we were about to make war on Iran, I'd put some energy into that issue. If we get through the month of April and get the Eisenhower headed back to Newport News, I for one will breathe a bit more easily.

It would be good for MoveOn and similar orgs to put some pressure on the Dems for further transparency and cleanup.

If you're concerned about CRS openness generally, make your concerns known to the Speaker and Majority Leader, and the Joint Committee on the Library.

Nell: OCSteve, I think it's vote trading.

John Thullen: To the extent that pork is the lubricant that tends to sluice the business of getting bills through Congress (vote-trading), I wonder how the world would work without it.

I do understand that it is how things work. I just want 1) transparency, and 2) legislators to stand on principal on this particular issue (I’d like that always, but especially on this).

We’re talking about ending a war in a hopefully responsible way. If someone’s vote on this issue can be bought with a highway project or the like what does that say about them?

pork is the lubricant that tends to sluice the business of getting bills through Congress

Ewwwwww.

I too am in favor of transparency in legislation, and hope that the conservatives raising this ruckus will succeed in getting some more of it. The chances for which are enhanced by joining the Nells of the world, and decoupling the issue from partisanship.

Which unfortunately means that the WSJ op-ed page will lose interest . . .

There's something I don't get about earmarks; they constitute less than one percent of the federal budget, so why on earth should I get excited about them?


Now, if all other things were equal, then eliminating anonymous earmarks and maybe eliminating earmarks in general would be an important priority. BUT, all other things are not equal. Hey, Seb, have you noticed the existence of the most disastrous war and foreign policy frak up in the history of this nation? You know, the one created by the people you elected and insisted were brilliant?


I'm sorry, but this is a little too ridiculous. Republicans like Seb have made a high art out of obsessing about pointless trivia in order to distract attention from issues that matter.


To be honest, if the only way Nancy Pelosi can get my soldiers and marines out of that hell hole is to blow a few billion on local pork, that's great. Saving the lives of our soldiers is worth a lot more than a few billion in pork.

Now that Seb, Von, and OCSteve have announed the deep concern they have for the transparency of the budgeting process, I'd like to hear their proposals for fixing the blue state frak over.

You know, that's the problem whereby blue states get significantly less money from the federal government than they put in and red states get significantly more than they put in. You might call it red state welfare.

The problem of red state welfare is far larger the earmarks; its basis lies in the entire budgeting process. Does this problem concern you three gentlemen? How do you propose we solve it?

This brouhaha about the CRS reminds me about the demise of the OTA (Office of Technology Assessment). In both cases you had non-partisan reality-based research organizations that sometimes generated inconvenient results. Politicians of both parties too often have had problems with this.

That's nice. And now that we've established that they are correct in this instance...

I don't think that's been demonstrated. Nell's cite only shows that the CRS won't release info to the public without managerial oversight. Which is unfortunate and should be corrected.
It does not say that the CRS won't track earmarks or that it won't respond to requests from 'congressionals', or that the earmark data aren't available someplace.

These seem to be to be the more damning aspects of the WSJ claims- that Dems said they won't earmark, but instead are earmarking and not letting anyone track it. And those claims appear to be wholly based on quotes from Republican 'congressionals' and snippets from CRS memos.

Not saying it isn't true, but this just isn't a reliable source.

I'd like to hear their proposals for fixing the blue state frak over.

Not sure what is has to do with this, but I’ll play. Take FEMA money from Louisiana and Mississippi and give it to NYC for Homeland Security? No, New Orleans is pretty blue…

I’ve got it: Global Warming.

Most of the country’s population is clustered on either coast and around the Great Lakes. Naturally these concentrations of taxpayers pay the most federal taxes by state. More people, more taxes. Seems logical…

Now as it happens, the Blue States overlap nicely: the west coast, the NE coast, and around the Great Lakes. All those large cities – very blue. Seems logical…

Enter Global Warming. As the ocean levels rise (as well as the Great Lakes) and coastal storms get worse and worse these population concentrations will have to flee inland.

Population gets more dispersed and the percentage of federal taxes by state gets more equal.

Done. /snark

@cw: I read an article a few weeks ago suggesting that Democrats were considering reviving the OTA. Will dig it out tomorrow if no one else has done so by then.

OCSteve: nice bit of snark. As I understand it, though, climatologists aren't quite sure what the Great Lakes will do; they're at least as likely to shrink as to grow. (Unlike the oceans, they're not being fed by glacial melt.)

OCSteve,
This isn't to play 'my, aren't you the hypocrite' that seems to have descended here, but I think NO was trending red up until Katrina. Don't know if anyone is paying attention (or interested), but the race has gotten interesting because Blanco has announced she's not running, Breaux was wavering, and the Republicans and Jindahl (who gave Blanco a run for her money in the last election) said that Breaux was not eligible to run because he was not a 'citizen' of Louisana, which apparently pushed Breaux from on the fence to definitely running, so there's a court case on the definition of 'citizen' in this context. I haven't followed the whole thing very closely, but it has been on the news a bit down here. FYI

I'd like to hear their proposals for fixing the blue state frak over.

And when they're done with that, I'd like to hear them explain how my tax dollars don't all come back to me in terms of services. Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!

"There's something I don't get about earmarks; they constitute less than one percent of the federal budget, so why on earth should I get excited about them?"

Well, if citizens bribing members of Congress to enact legislation (That can't pass on it's own merits.) is a bad thing, worth getting excited over, then why isn't members of Congress bribing each other with the public's money, to pass legislation (That can't pass on it's own merits.) a bad thing worth getting excited over? I doubt that if you added up all the bribes members of Congress get from the private sector, it would add up to more than a small fraction of the money expended on earmarks.

I think, though, the problem here is that we even have to go through the CRS. The reform we really need is for the text of bills to be published electronically in searchable form some significant period before the final vote on them. Then we could add up the earmarks ourselves.

Brett: The reform we really need is for the text of bills to be published electronically in searchable form some significant period before the final vote on them. Then we could add up the earmarks ourselves.

Yes, you do.

And not just for the earmarks.

You need something like this - though the legislation actually progressing through Parliament is on a separate website.

I can't believe I agree with Brett on something, but we do need more transparency on what legislation is before Congress. And not just for ourselves, but also for the members of Congress. One of the more shameful things in the last Congress was having votes on legislation that had just been presented,, revised, whatever, without sufficient time to read the legislation.

BTW, the main difference in the two kinds of bribes (not excusing either one) is that in the first, the money goes into the Congressperson's bank account, and in the second it goes to special people in special districts.

Not that that also doesn't somehow end back in the bank accounts.

Jim and LJ: I was kidding – I didn’t actually take the time to see if NO was still blue or what was actually projected for the Great Lakes ;)

Slartibartfast: Exactly.

Common Sense: On a more serious note, why can’t I be concerned with earmarks unless I’m also concerned about other causes you and/or your party have? I would think you would be happy we could agree on some common areas of concern.

for the record: i'd like more transparency, too. i'd like it in more than just the earmarks process, however.

Slart: "And when they're done with that, I'd like to hear them explain how my tax dollars don't all come back to me in terms of services."

If they're not coming back to you because of the political entity you live in is systematically weak, that's sad, isn't it? If your neighbor is in a different political entity but is otherwise identical to you, and your tax money is flowing to him, that's sad too, isn't it?


Don't get the responses to my points above - if the story is that a Republican appointee is doing something crazy, then my response is going to be "uh-huh, let's get that fixed".

Apologies if my comment was too sharp, I didn't mean anything by it. I just recall that one of the 'truths' that was often mentioned about Katrina is that the admin's response guaranteed dem control for the future, when they actually had a good chance of flipping it. Interesting times ahead

OT:
"We use that word—Christian—to refer to people who are evangelical Christians," Schneeberger added.

I think Schneeberger meant that they use the word "Christian" to refer to people who sleep with everyone but their spouses, but have a lot of good ideas on slashing the capital gains tax on adultery.

Jackmormon: "EWWWWWW"

Those who live in sausage factories should always throw pork, or something. ;)

The Left: Education, guns, drugs, school prayer, gays, defense spending, taxes, you name it, we disagree.
OCSteve: You know why?
The Left: ‘Cause I’m a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egg head, communist.
OCSteve: Yes, sir. And I’m a gun-totin’, redneck son-of-a-bitch.
The Left: Yes, you are.
OCSteve: We agree on that.
The Left: We also agree on campaign finance.
OCSteve: Yes, sir.
The Left: So, Max.
OCSteve: Yes, sir?
The Left: Let’s work together on campaign finance. [plot stuff snipped] Max, can I count on your support to confirm my candidates?
OCSteve: And what do I get in exchange?
The Left: The thanks of a grateful President.
OCSteve: Good answer, sir.

LJ: Not at all – just wasn’t sure it was obvious enough I was attempting to make a funny.

Jes: If I could unravel that I might attempt a response. Maybe not.

If I could unravel that I might attempt a response. Maybe not.

A Monty Python quote is usually appropriate.

It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.

A Monty Python quote is always appropriate.

Sometimes my sense of humor even escapes me.

I think the reason people should be upset about earmarking is because, frankly, it's corruption. It's low-level, tedious, mundane corruption, but it's still corrupt, and it's still galling from a moral point of view. We're talking about bribery in so many words. "Vote for our bill and we'll give you $100M of government money to spend in your state." Rather than accepting it as "the grease that lets the wheels of government spin", why not make your stand against the leviathan on this issue?

In light of the various individual cases of low-down, unexciting, invidious corruption that we are seeing at the executive branch, I think it's worth addressing the quality of the compost over there in DC, to see what kind of people the culture is breeding.

If we take a stand against this kind of thing in the Administration and when it's Republicans, I think we have to try and make it universal.

McDuff - and Brett's dead right. (Though I recall Hilzoy proposing something similiar.) What would clear up a lot of that kind of corruption would be a legal requirement that the text of legislation had to be made available to the general public, say at least three months before it was due to be voted on, in electronic format enabling it to be searched. And once the legislation has been posted to the general public, that's the text that has to be debated and voted on. Have more than one debate if changes are required. Allow representatives to post amendments, also available to the general public, up until two weeks before it's to be voted on.

The resulting furore about pork would at least likely end up being completely evenhanded...

(also: I just want to wish you both good luck, we're all counting on you.)

Jes -- I completely agree. I don't see why it's an issue at all to have the contents of the legislation that your representatives will be voting on available to the general public. To painfully beat the metaphor, you don't always want to eat sausages after you've seen the inside of a sausage factory, but you still need a government health inspector to make sure they're not filling the sausages with half-billion dollar bridges to nowhere.

(take that, Al "flaming babies" Gore!)

Brett: The reform we really need is for the text of bills to be published electronically in searchable form some significant period before the final vote on them.

On this, at least, we're in total agreement.

My experience with procedures for spacecraft (instrument) testing suggests a great difficulty in arriving at a clean version of a law - I have no idea how Congress manages to actually come up with anything self-consistent.

Not meaning to get anyone in a further lather than they already are, if I tell my wife that she can do some shopping downtown if she lets me go to the bookstore, is this a bribe? My point is that I think some horse trading is essential to the process of not only government but of simply people getting along. I'm not defending spinach and shrimp subsidies, but it seems to me that what distinguished the Congress when the REpublicans were in the majority was not the renouncing of these sorts of things, but the desire to make sure that such things only flowed to other Republicans.

lj, I agree that some trading back and forth is not only to be expected, but perhaps even appropriate. However, I do believe in transparency in who put in the earmark, as well as transparency of all aspects of a piece of legislation sufficiently prior to a vote to allow careful consideration.

"I don't see why it's an issue at all to have the contents of the legislation that your representatives will be voting on available to the general public."

It's a power issue for the leadership; It's not so much a matter of keeping the public in the dark, as it is keeping the regular, non-leadership members in the dark, so that they can be tricked into voting for things they might oppose if they knew were present in the bill. Keeping us in the dark is just gravy.

In the more extreme cases the text of the bill is actually finalized after it's voted on.

A lot of the weird rules and abuses in Congress exist to transfer power from the regular members to the leadership.

"if I tell my wife that she can do some shopping downtown if she lets me visit the bookstore, is this a bribe?"

Not in my book. However, if you duck into the bar next door for a couple of quick gin and tonics on a sultry afternoon, that's larceny.

Brett: I know who your candidate in 2008 should be. Barack Obama has introduced a bunch of reform bills, including this bill, which requires (among other things) that bills be available 72 hours in advance on the internet unless 2/3 of the Congress votes to waive the rule, and this one, which requires (among other things) that all earmarks have their sponsors identified, and be available on the internet 72 hours before a vote, unless 2/3 of the Congress votes to waive this rule.

Brett: In the more extreme cases the text of the bill is actually finalized after it's voted on.

This has only happened under Republicans. I'll do that same Kyrgyz-song-in-a-tutu as Hilzoy promised if proved wrong about that.

However, I agree completely with the advance text of bills proposal. It's almost as galling to be surprised when you agree with what's being proposed.

Example of the day: Chuck Hagel talked on Sunday about an Iraq bill he and Webb were going to introduce "soon" that would have to do with readiness and repeat deployments etc. I could get nothing out of Webb's office in the way of proposed text, etc., yesterday, nor any idea of when that might happen.

Today, I just happened to be watching C-SPAN when lo and behold, Hagel and Webb stepped up to speak for their proposal, which is being offered in the form of an amendment to the Pentagon supplemental, and cosponsored by Reid. The amendment wasn't read out loud, not even its introduction. If I hadn't caught Reid reading its number, I'd have no idea how to find the text.

This is a piece of legislation I'd like to support, to rally others to lobby for, but...?? WTF, guys? Give the grassroots a chance to encourage swingable Senators, please.

While we're talking about legislative transparency, I'd like to give props to Newt Gingrich, of all people, someone I despise, for having Thomas.loc.gov -- the best thing to come out of the Republican takeover in 1994. I'd like the Democratic restoration to take as big a step forward.

The House's new 24-hour rule (for bills to be available to members to read) only works for members and lobbyists wired enough to get a look at the bills during that short period. It's an improvement for the staffs and representatives, but not much of one for the constituents.

Without any idea of what it says, or

Oops. That last line is an editing remnant.

available on the internet 72 hours before a vote, unless 2/3 of the Congress votes to waive this rule.

Why do I have the feeling that bipartisanship would come back into vogue?

That last line is an editing remnant.

when i hear the word "remnant", i always think of Peter MacNicol's character in Ally McBeal, and his remote-control toilet flusher.

I think the reason people should be upset about earmarking is because, frankly, it's corruption. It's low-level, tedious, mundane corruption, but it's still corrupt, and it's still galling from a moral point of view. We're talking about bribery in so many words. "Vote for our bill and we'll give you $100M of government money to spend in your state." Rather than accepting it as "the grease that lets the wheels of government spin", why not make your stand against the leviathan on this issue?

There is, in America, a long tradition of people trying to remove the politics from their politics. My response to them is, "Good luck with that."

This analysis ignores a very important step in the process. Legislators want pork for their districts because the voters, in turn, vote for or against them based upon how much money they bring home. The anti-pork argument, at least on the part of the general American public, is that they want their to be a law in order to prevent Congressmen from doing something upon which the general American public bestows their greatest signal of approval.

As is the case in other subjects, the American public has the power to end pork right now, or, at least, within a few election cycles. The public chooses to not exercise that power, and thus gets the government it really wants. In this case, it wants pork to be the lubricant of governing.

Now, it is also the case that the American political system is designed from the bottom up to require more lubrication than that of almost any country. Combine multiple independent levels of government with extremely weak political parties, and their is a huge amount of friction in the system. In most countries, it isn't necessary to bribe individual legislators all the time; they do what the party leaders tell them to do. If they don't, then that's taken as a sign that your party needs a new leader, not that the legislators need more pork.

There are positives and negatives to the system we have. However, if eliminating pork is something you really think is important, then you should be agitating for constitutional change, because that's the only way you'll make a serious dent in it.

Me? I'll take transparency and let it go. If making it public means that those introducing pork actually lose votes, then that's all to the good. I'll also eat my hat if the American public consistently takes that option.

requires (among other things) that bills be available 72 hours in advance on the internet unless 2/3 of the Congress votes to waive the rule, and this one, which requires (among other things) that all earmarks have their sponsors identified, and be available on the internet 72 hours before a vote, unless 2/3 of the Congress votes to waive this rule.

Now, I like this idea. I would love it without the 2/3rds provisions. Can anyone think of a good reason to keep those in?

heet: what's wrong with the 2/3? I read it as follows: there may be times when we need to pass a bill really, really quickly. Declaring war, for instance. In such cases, it should be possible to waive the rule. But we don't want it to be possible to do this too easily. A 2/3 rule ensures that the transparency requirement can only be waived if a whole lot of people, probably with significant representation from both parties (e.g., now it would need 16 GOP Senators), agree. So it will work in cases of real need, but cannot be waived if a bare majority wants to ram something through.

hilzoy:
Ah, I guess I don't have a problem with removing the provision due to a time constraint. My problem is the horsetrading that would be done to get that 2/3rds when the legislation needed to be hidden. I suppose the thinking is - the opposition party wouldn't easily go along with something too egregious b/c they could use it as ammo.

Legislators want pork for their districts because the voters, in turn, vote for or against them based upon how much money they bring home. The anti-pork argument, at least on the part of the general American public, is that they want their to be a law in order to prevent Congressmen from doing something upon which the general American public bestows their greatest signal of approval.

This is a significant part of the background to my question about small-government conservatives. Most of the so-called small-government conservatives I'm familiar with are perfectly fine with cutting other people's "pork" provided their own "necessary expenditures" aren't touched. That's not really a belief in small government, IMO, just a belief in the superiority of one's desires.

"This is a significant part of the background to my question about small-government conservatives. Most of the so-called small-government conservatives I'm familiar with are perfectly fine with cutting other people's "pork" provided their own "necessary expenditures" aren't touched. That's not really a belief in small government, IMO, just a belief in the superiority of one's desires."

Sure, and this is part of the problem with lots of people wanting more personal benefits and lower taxes, but what can we do in the real world? Hopefully grow the economy enough to not notice or something.

The advance publishing issue is high on my "lobbying" agenda for 2007, and I gave it quite a bit of thought last year when PATRIOT II passed. While I would settle for Obama's version (aside from the stupid acronym), I think automatic sunsets are preferable. Even longish (4-6 year) ones. The kind of urgency hilzoy talks about should be feasible, but any legislation that arises from urgency is more likely than not to be flawed, and probably shouldn't be permanent anyway.

Also I think revision control should be a lot stricter than what Obama asks for in 3 and 5, but he's a Senator from a big state, and I'm lucky to get five minutes on the phone with my own representative's acting assistant deputy junior aide for constituent relations.

"that bills be available 72 hours in advance"

Still seems to me that this would add so much impedance into the system that it would effectively stop legislative work. Maybe I need to review how the sausage is made though.

Rilkefan: Still seems to me that this would add so much impedance into the system that it would effectively stop legislative work.

Yeah, that's why the UK Parliament (and the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly) haven't passed any new legislation, in, like, ever, because it just adds so much impedance into the system to have to make the text of the legislation available to the general public in advance of debate.

Procedures. Planning.

Honestly, how on earth can any member of the public lobby effectively with regard to legislation in the US if you don't have access to this kind of information? Or is that the point? Well, yes, I suppose it is.

Of course it's possible for a government to produce this kind of information. It's quite extraordinary to me that it just doesn't happen in the US, but it beggars belief to see people claiming that it's not possible.

Sure, and this is part of the problem with lots of people wanting more personal benefits and lower taxes, but what can we do in the real world?

Return the very highest marginal rates to their pre-Reagan levels and remove the income cap on Social Security taxes?

Aaaaaaaarghhhhhhh! The communists are taking over! ;-)

If they're not coming back to you because of the political entity you live in is systematically weak, that's sad, isn't it? If your neighbor is in a different political entity but is otherwise identical to you, and your tax money is flowing to him, that's sad too, isn't it?

Sure, sadness all around. Let's FIX IT! Assuming there's something broken, I mean. After all, when there's income redistribution going on, someones absolutely guaranteed to be getting more money than me.

We could start by forced relocation of urban New Yorkers to rural Alabama, for instance. Anyone have other ideas, or are we just going to hear endless kvetching about this?

I'm all for a mass relocation of Californians to Texas, by the way, providing I can get beachfront property in San Diego in trade.

Return the very highest marginal rates to their pre-Reagan levels and remove the income cap on Social Security taxes?

How far pre-Reagan do you want to go? Should we dial it all the way back to 1969, in your opinion?

After all, when there's income redistribution going on, someones absolutely guaranteed to be getting more money than me.

Um, given that I make qut a bit above median income, I mean. And..."someone's". Pet peeve of mine, too.

After all, when there's income redistribution going on, someones absolutely guaranteed to be getting more money than me.

Yup:

Who Pays America's Tax Burden, and Who Gets the Most Government Spending

Overall, we find that America's lowest-earning one-fifth of households received roughly $8.21 in government spending for each dollar of taxes paid in 2004. Households with middle-incomes received $1.30 per tax dollar, and America's highest-earning households received $0.41. Government spending targeted at the lowest-earning 60 percent of U.S. households is larger than what they paid in federal, state and local taxes. In 2004, between $1.03 trillion and $1.53 trillion was redistributed downward from the two highest income quintiles to the three lowest income quintiles through government taxes and spending policy.

Government spending targeted at the lowest-earning 60 percent of U.S. households is larger than what they paid in federal, state and local taxes.

It would be pretty awful if it were the other way about, wouldn't it?

Return the very highest marginal rates to their pre-Reagan levels and remove the income cap on Social Security taxes?

Getting started on that:
Following the example set by their Senate brethren last Friday, House Democrats will adopt a budget resolution containing the largest tax increase in U.S. history amid massive national inattention.

Oops maybe it won’t only hurt rich people:

The bill set to reach the House floor today (resembling the Senate version) would raise taxes an average of $1,795 on 115 million taxpayers in 2011. Some 26 million small-business owners would pay an average of $3,960 more. The decreased number of Americans subject to income taxes would all pay higher taxes, and 5 million low-income Americans would be returned to the rolls.

Yeah it’s Novak. I haven’t had time to verify the details for myself so if he is full of crap feel free to point it out to me.

How is that defined? Only direct flow of money? What about investments into infrastructure or corporate welfare? The latter will end mainly in the pockets of rich people but not directly by paying them.
I mean that as an honest question, not snark.

OCS, it's an interesting study. I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised, though, that people making $100,000+ aren't getting as much in public assistance as people making $10,000. Or that the bulk of retirement money is going to people at the lower end of the income scale -- surprise, they're not working! (Similarly, I suppose that state university expenditures are disproportionately going to starving grad students).

The question is what is to be done about it. It's stupid to ask poor people to pay more taxes, so you're left with either deeply cutting spending (for which there is little appetite, in any income cohort) or accepting, in the words of george Costanza, that 'we're trying to have a society here' and that if you're in the top 20%, or especially the top 1%, paying in more than you personally are going to get out is how civilization works.

CharleyCarp: Not saying it’s good/bad. I’m in that $1.30 range so I’m still ahead of the game. :)

Just following up on Slartibartfast’s points, and making a bit of counterpoint to the red state welfare topic.

Hartmut: Details on the study here.

CharleyCarp- They aren't surprised they are just dismayed. Its no secret that Republicans want to bring back debt-peonage.

It would be pretty awful if it were the other way about, wouldn't it?

Sure. Robbing the poor to pay the rich...wasn't there a sort of fable about that?

OCS, the use of the word "rich" by pretty much anyone in a tax debate is deeply unproductive. While I would guess that people in the top half of the top 1% of income (or of wealth) might be comfortable using the word, IME pretty much no one else uses it to describe themselves.

The study does quintiles, and the top quintile is about $100,000. There are plenty of people, I'm sure, and plenty of places where someone making $100,000 is "rich." And yet, in a major metro area, a household making $100,000 isn't going to feel rich at all. (The little 2 br 1 ba house on the 4000 sq ft lot next to me just sold for ca. $625,000. That's not remotely possible for a "rich" couple making $100k).

Rilkefan: "Still seems to me that this would add so much impedance into the system that it would effectively stop legislative work."

Oh, bunk. You debate the bill to the point where you're ready to vote on final passage, stop, publish it, and go off and spend three days on some other legislation. Then, when the three days are up, you hold the vote.

If you weren't trying to sneak something through, under the radar, that vote should be no harder three days later than it was before everybody knew what was in the bill. Because everybody ALREADY knew what was in it.

If they were trying to sneak something through, I don't want high impedance, I want a flat out open circuit.

wasn't there a sort of fable about that?

Probably! A feel-good American fairy-tale, I should think, in which the rich ended happily, and the poor unhappily.

Rereading this post today, I notice that Rep. Obey's apparent lapse into Orwellian prose may in fact be sensible: if I read it correctly, Rep. Obey was drawing a distinction between a member acting as a member and the Chair acting as Chair. This may be a mere legalistic quibble with no substance, but perhaps whatever hoops a member has to jump through to get the Chair to insert a provision serve to protect the public somewhat.

It would be pretty awful if it were the other way about, wouldn't it?

Which, for finite frequency, would be infinite impedance. Nit-picky, sure, especially since it's an analogy.

Whoops. Keyboard is whacked; cut-and-pasted wrong.

Actually, J, the fable I had in mind was British in origin.

Brett: You debate the bill to the point where you're ready to vote on final passage, stop, publish it, and go off and spend three days on some other legislation. Then, when the three days are up, you hold the vote.

Yes.

Exactly.

Or hell, you spend two weeks on some other legislation. You just plan out the legislative session well ahead of time with what you want to do, with spaces for new stuff that will come up, allowing reasonable gaps between each debate on each piece of legislation to let it be published online so that the general public can read it.

(I can't help feeling there is something bizarre going on when I'm in wholehearted agreement with Brett, but I'm all for bizarre...)

CharleyCarp: the use of the word "rich" by pretty much anyone in a tax debate is deeply unproductive

I agree completely. I wasn’t sure where I used it. Maybe you are conflating two different comments? I didn’t use it in relation to the study – I did use it in regards to the budget proposal, but it was in the context of rolling back “tax cuts for the rich” – not my terminology.

Actually, J, the fable I had in mind was British in origin.

About robbing the poor to pay the rich? Can't think which one you had in mind...

It would be pretty awful if it were the other way about, wouldn't it?

Sure. About how awful it is when people do that, and a possible solution. Break it down: Monsieur Hood!

I didn't mean it as a rebuke, to you OCS, just an observation. It's always a huge mistake, on the Dem side, to use this word to refer to anyone in the bottom 99% of incomes.

It's much better to say 'tax cuts for millionaires' -- everyone who's not one knows it. Or 'tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 per year.'

Dang. Computer is hosed; off to find a new kboard

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