Americans are fed up with the backroom deals, abuses of power, disregard for the Constitution, and lack of transparency in many bills that have become law this Congress. Open government that is transparent and participatory is the best way to ensure that officials in Washington effectively represent the will of the people and do not overstep their constitutional authority.
The 111th Congress commenced with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House. Though some have dismissed the Republican Party after such a defeat, I believe the majority of Americans still believe in conservative principles. I have introduced two pieces of legislation that I believe will open the way for a more open, transparent, and responsible government. On February 4, 2010, I introduced H. Res. 1071, legislation changing the rules of the House of Representatives to require a three-fifths super majority to increase the federal debt limit. Congress and President Obama have spent taxpayer dollars recklessly; in part because they know they can easily increase the debt limit. In fact, Congress has increased the debt limit three times in this year by roughly $3 trillion total. Most Americans know that when you overspend, you cannot get yourself out of financial trouble by repeatedly increasing the limit on your credit card. Unfortunately, the administration and Democrats in Congress think it is better to consistently increase our credit limit instead of making tough financial decisions.
My bill effectively requires a bipartisan consensus to raise the debt limit. This forces both parties to get serious about cutting spending. The national debt is currently over $13 trillion and growing. That adds up to more than $43,000 for every American. A three-fifths majority doesn’t preclude raising the debt limit, especially in an emergency, but it would force the majority party to work with the minority to control our federal debt.
A second bill I have introduced, H. Res. 1502, adds transparency to the appropriations process by making it harder to “air-drop” earmarks during the “conference” process (which resolves the differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill). While Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how tax dollars are spent, air-dropping earmarks into bills at the last minute, is not how Congress should work.
There are other common-sense solutions that Republicans have proposed that, so far, the Democratic majority has refused to even debate. While I have joined with my Republican colleagues in saying “no” to some very bad bills, we do have ideas about how to reform our Congress and our government to better serve the American people. Here are just a few solutions Republicans have offered:
- Read the Bill: The House of Representatives should pass a rule requiring the full text of bills to be published online for at least 72 hours before being considered on the House floor.
- Enact reforms that favor saving over spending: Guarantee debate and a roll call vote on any proposal designed to cut spending out of a bill.
- Ensure that federal spending is based on merit: A decision to spend taxpayers’ money should be based on merit, not political power. Congress should establish objective benchmarks for each federal program and hold the program accountable.
- End the practice of “omnibus” bills: Congress should end the practice of attaching unpopular legislation to “must pass” bills simply to circumvent the regular legislative process. Too often massive bills that impact unrelated parts of the economy have been slammed together, such as merging an education bill with funding for our troops. Major legislation should only address one issue at a time.
The way forward is clear. We must rediscover the principles of limited government, fiscal discipline, personal responsibility, transparency and put them into practice in Congress.
Rep. Todd Akin represents Missouri’s 2nd district.