The Washington Examiner today endorses a Senate bill that would require the government to create a public database that would allow taxpayers to access data for all federal expenditures (except for indivdual assistance). Tom Coburn, a noted pork hawk, authored the bill and has a bipartisan group of co-sponsors which include Barack Obama and John McCain:
Abraham Lincoln said, “Let the people know the facts and all will be safe,” so the Great Emancipator would certainly cheer an unlikely group of United States senators who have recently joined forces to push a potentially landmark measure. That measure is designed to put every American citizen within a few mouse clicks of knowing the facts needed to track federal spending as never before.
This measure should receive top-priority attention in Congress and be signed by President Bush at the earliest possible opportunity. The proposal is known as the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590). Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is the original architect of the proposal, which was quickly co-sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Tom Carper, D-Del., and John McCain, R-Ariz. …
The Coburn-Obama-Carper-McCain measure stipulates that within 30 days of awarding federal tax dollars, the government would have to post the name of the entity receiving the funds (excluding individuals receiving federal assistance), the amount of funds received by the entity in each of the past 10 years, detailed information about each of the transactions during the previous decade, the location of the entity, where the goods or services purchased with the federal dollars will be performed or purchased, and a unique identifier such as the Dun & Bradstreet number commonly used by the private sector.
The bill itself can be read at OMB Watch, a non-profit described by the Examiner as a liberal advocacy group. OMB Watch enthusiastically supports S2590 but has its issues with the approach taken by S2718, an alternative offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), which it details in its report. In either case, OMB Watch will not wait for the Senate to act. It will create its own searchable database for the federal budget for taxpayers interested in how Congress spends its money, an act that might embarrass Capitol Hill into finally introducing some sunlight into a process that has existed in darkness for far too long.
This proposal has come before the Senate previously in this session. In March, Trent Lott killed an amendment offered by Coburn and Obama which would have attached the requirements of S2590 onto the lobbying reform bill under consideration in the upper chamber. He used Rule 22, which labeled the amendment as irrelevant to the purpose of the bill it amended, even though almost everyone who has urged lobbying reform has made earmarks the centerpiece of why such change is necessary. Lott, on the other hand, felt that earmarks were of no concern to taxpayers and essentially told them to butt out.
At the time, I urged Coburn and Obama to reintroduce the amendment as a separate bill so that parliamentary tricks like Rule 22 would be avoided. Now the Senate has it in front of them once more. If they truly intend to reform appropriations politics, they will allow taxpayers this tool for accurately gauging the influence of lobbyists and special interests in DC.