Saturday, June 23, 2007

"It's hard to shame people who have no shame."

Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal writes about the earmark transparency movement in several states like Kansas and Texas:
...Even as Washington has fiddled on earmarks--delaying, obfuscating and basically doing all it can to avoid enacting real reform--a transparency movement has been sweeping the nation. Angry over Alaskan Bridges to Nowhere, and frustrated by the lack of willpower in the nation's capital, small-government activists have turned their attention to the states. If ever Washington lagged behind a movement, this is it...
The transparency movement building at the state level is contrasted with that at the federal level (emphasis added):
...At the state level, transparency has been an easy political sell. Voters have made clear they are willing to turn spending abuse into a top issue in local elections. And while big-government politicians may not fear arguing against budget caps or spending limitations, few are stupid enough to argue against better information. If anything, state Republicans and Democrats are racing to sponsor transparency bills. The question is if any of this translates back to Washington. National politicians understand the anger, which is why Democrats ran on greater earmark transparency last year, and why we had last year's successful legislation from Sens. Tom Coburn and Barack Obama to set up a public Web site detailing all federal contracts and grants.

Yet for all the sweet talk, most of Congress is still hoping voters will forget all this hubbub about pork amid more pressing issues like the Iraq war. The uproar over Democrats' decision to hide the details of 32,000 earmark requests suggests those hopes are as yet misplaced.

Even with greater transparency, will the humiliation factor work? Amid all House Appropriations Chairman David Obey's unconvincing reasons for keeping the public in the dark, he did make the fair point that even when embarrassing earmarks have been disclosed, Congress rallies around its porksters and approves the money. It's hard to shame people who have no shame.

And that's the next stage of the earmark debate. Forcing national politicians to admit to their bad spending habits is clearly difficult. Forcing them to stop, or pay the price at the polls, is the real test of "earmark reform."


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