Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Towards a real Department of Louise!

Do you remember Dave Barry's Department of Louise? Barry wrote in one of his old columns (unfortunately not available on the GoreNet) about a federal Department consisting of one crotchety old lady named Louise. Every federal spending bill would have to be approved first by Louise. I remember that Barry used the example of a half million dollar taxpayer-funded grant for the redecorating of the late Liberace's house. The lawmakers would come to Louise, hat in hand, and ask for the money...and Louise would say, "No!" I loved the whole idea.

Today the excellent Cato Institute has proposed something similar: the Office of Taxpayer Advocacy. The OTA would be
charged with the specific mission of representing the taxpayer interest in opposing unwise or unnecessary spending. This agency could employ thousands of researchers to investigate ineffective and unnecessary programs and highlight the damage done by the spending of tax dollars. It could establish a hotline for taxpayers to call about instances of waste and abuse. It could employ writers and public relations specialists to publicize the costs of spending proposals, to ensure that Congress, the media, and the public heard anti-spending arguments.

If administrators and lobbyists believe their programs are as valuable as they say, they should welcome scrutiny and feel confident that they will be able to refute their critics. The media should be happy to have voices on both sides of spending questions. Congress itself should embrace the idea. Most lawmakers know they are being bombarded by the self-interested sales pitches of spending advocates. They know they need to hear anti-spending arguments in order to make responsible decisions.

And the OTA could even pay for itself!
How much might such an office cost? With a staff of about 5,000, it would cost about $500,000,000—0.017% of the federal budget. Congress could pay for it by abolishing any one of dozens of questionable programs of equal size.

The creation of an Office of Taxpayer Advocacy would represent a revolutionary change. Congress would create, for the first time, a general interest lobby to counterbalance all the special interest lobbies it has created with its spending largesse. By representing the interests of American taxpayers in reality rather than rhetoric, Congress could commit itself to making wiser decisions, and put a brake on the reckless spending that threatens the economy.

I think it's a grand idea! Goes right along with the Read the Bills Act. Even more, it goes right along with Davy Crockett's Not Yours to Give speech. He gave it upon the occasion of a bill being introduced into the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for the benefit of the widow of a distinguished naval officer. A number of fine speeches were given by House members in support of the appropriation. Just before the Speaker was about to call the question, Crockett, Representative from Tennessee, rose and asked for the floor:
Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.

Afterwards, Crockett explained how he had come to change his mind about spending bills. He also observed something about his fellow Congressmen:
There are in that House many very wealthy men - men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased--a debt which could not be paid by money--and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.

So that woman can just forget about getting my money!

No comments: