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Friday, September 7, 2007

Congressman opposes reform of secretive spending requests


Hill blocks sunlight: Congressman opposes reform of secretive spending requests

Our readers write
Todd C. Young
September 04, 2007 02:09 PM

How quickly things change. Less than a year ago, candidate Baron Hill promised voters of Indiana's Ninth Congressional district that, if elected, he would work to clean up the culture of corruption in Washington. Many Hoosiers interpreted that as taking a stand against the wasteful "earmark" process that siphons billions of tax dollars into projects of dubious merit.

Yet this year, according to a tally kept by the Heritage Foundation, Rep. Hill and his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives submitted more than 32,000 secretive "earmark" requests. These requests provide employment for an army of lobbyists who have created Washington's "pay for play" culture.

The thinking among members of Congress seems to be that if they make it harder for the taxpaying public to find out what earmarks are being requested, they can claim success in cleaning up the mess. It hasn't drawn much attention, but the Library of Congress' respected Congressional Research Service — long the official source of earmark data — has stopped identifying the source of earmark requests. It is now up to each individual member to tell us what earmarks he or she requests. Whose idea was that?

We do know that, this year, Hill and his colleagues used earmarks to support a mountain of questionable expenditures, including $13.5 million for the International Fund for Ireland, which helped finance the World Toilet Summit; $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Sparta, N.C.; $100,000 for the Richard Steele Boxing Club in Henderson, Nev.; and $1 million for the Waterfree Urinal Initiative.

Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson had it right when he recently said that earmarks need to be "in the open, for all to see and evaluate, and their use needs to be significantly limited." But Hill, a former lobbyist and self-described "conservative Democrat," keeps his earmark requests secret. Who is he representing, anyway?

Hill's insistence on secrecy is hard to square with his pledge to clean up the "culture of corruption" he was so happy to denounce. For my part, I hope Hoosiers will pay close attention to this issue and take note of just exactly what their representatives are doing, as well as what they are saying.

It is a critical time in our nation's history. We're fighting wars abroad. We're securing our homeland against terrorist attacks. Our largest social programs face insolvency. It is past time for politicians like Hill to get serious about these enormous challenges — and to reveal to us their actual priorities.

Hill has let us down. He has elected to keep his spending priorities secret and to keep us in the dark about what occupies his time and attention. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And, despite his campaign promises, Hill is blocking that sunlight.

Todd C. Young of Bloomington is an attorney practicing in Paoli.