Accountability Is Missing From Stimulus Package

Posted January 28, 2009 at 3:18pm

There is no doubt that America is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that has the potential to stop Main Street in its tracks. Congress has already attempted to repair Wall Street through a $700 billion financial bailout, commonly known as TARP. Now, we are tasked to find a solution to stimulate the economy so that Americans are no longer lying awake at night for fear of losing their jobs or paying their mortgages. [IMGCAP(1)]

Before we go down this road, we’d best look in the rearview mirror. I, like so many of my colleagues, would like to take back my Troubled Assets Relief Program vote, but because that is not a possibility, it is our responsibility to learn from the past and Congress’ failure to demand proper oversight, and move prudently forward.

Put plainly, the Obey/Pelosi economic stimulus bill now on the table is nearly a trillion dollars of government programs, tax code tinkering and corporate welfare disguised as a “jobs package” that borrows money we simply don’t have. From my vantage point on the Appropriations Committee, what makes this bill even worse is that it requires no accountability until after the money is out the door and then asks that we trust the honesty and goodwill of unelected bureaucrats to tell us what happened. It seems we’ve learned nothing from the mistakes of TARP.

Every Member of Congress ought to respect the fact that taxpayers, to the tune of $6,700 per household, are funding this new stimulus legislation. Hardworking Americans deserve the decency of accountability and oversight when their money is being spent. Therefore, I put forward an amendment during consideration of the stimulus bill that sought to do just that. I simply asked that before we borrow any more money and add to the $1.3 trillion deficit, we get a plan to ensure that the money we are allocating will truly stimulate the economy.

I expect our government to plan its work, and work its plan — that standard for accountability doesn’t waver in the face of dire circumstances. I have served on the committee for more than 25 years, and in all my years, I fail to recall a time where we ignored our basic duties and spent taxpayer money without a clear plan.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we responded to the calls for action in record time, appropriating some $40 billion; however, we still accounted for every penny by withholding funds and requiring a robust plan before its release. Today, however, we are asked to allocate 20 times that much on the blind faith that the money won’t be misspent.

My Republican colleagues and I made repeated attempts to control spending and ensure that this bill would actually create jobs and produce stimulative results for our troubled economy. The American people deserve the assurance that their money is being used effectively — requiring a plan that holds these programs accountable is the least we can do to protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud and abuse. But, rather than putting the stimulus bill through the proper process of committee hearings and bipartisan input, my Democratic colleagues steamrolled it through one appropriations meeting and refused to listen to our pleas for oversight and accountability.

The fact remains that we have no idea how $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts will stimulate the economy. We have no idea how $600 million to prepare our country for universal health care is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and if it will actually create jobs. We have no idea how the 32 new programs at a cost of more than $137 billion will help the shopkeeper in Springfield or the autoworker in Kentucky. And sadly, we have no assurance that every penny spent is held accountable and will actually produce results.

Unfortunately, it’s like TARP all over again, and I for one will not be fooled into thinking that a bill full of unproven government programs will be the saving grace America is so desperately looking for.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.