Congress needs to get back to basics

Elizabeth Letchworth Former U.S. Senate Secretary
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This Sunday, many New York Times readers will read that our country spent $787 billion on an economic experiment or test model of sorts. You know, that test model known as the “stimulus.” The New York Times’ White House correspondent, Peter Baker, says that the president admitted in an interview with him that he learned too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”

Wow, what a revelation. But was such an ah-ha moment really necessary before the proverbial light bulb could have been lit? The short answer is NO. If Congress had done its job during the legislative process back in early 2009, our country would not have had to suffer through this terrible economic wait-and-see experiment.

Under the correct legislative process, Congress would have held hearings on this behemoth of a stimulus bill before writing the text. The appropriate committees of Congress would have called expert witnesses to tell Congress whether shovel-ready projects actually existed. This learning process would have cost the American people nothing and the knowledge gained might have saved the American people billions of dollars and dozens of weeks and months of waiting for non-existent shovel-ready jobs.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee would have been a logical place to start having the hearings. After all, we were told that many of the shovel-ready jobs were in infrastructure. The member of Congress who runs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). This is what she said during the debate on the stimulus bill back in February 2009: “Local people are saying to us, please Senators, do something to help us get out there, spend the money on these shovel-ready projects.”

Another top Democrat in the Senate, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), said this during the February debate on the stimulus bill: “Shovel-ready infrastructure projects are the most immediate way to create jobs and get the economy moving quickly.”

President Obama said the following in a Colorado town hall meeting back in August 2009: “There are almost 100 shovel-ready transportation projects already approved in Colorado which are beginning to create jobs.” Um, shouldn’t Chairperson Boxer have held hearings and called transportation experts to learn if these jobs really existed? Instead, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wrote the bill behind locked mahogany Capitol Hill doors. They called no experts, no economists, and no industry heads. Instead, they bypassed the legislative process altogether and wrote a bill without any benefit from the good Americans who actually create jobs.

Stay tuned to see if the new Congress continues to bypass the legislative process when it writes bills. This writer hopes not, because doing so is getting way too expensive!

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. Currently she is a senior legislative advisor for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of www.GradeGov.com.