Saturday, January 07, 2006

Republicans Should Heed Brooks Recommendations

Congressional Republicans would be well-advised to follow the recommendations of conservative newspaper columnist David Brooks on how to avoid an electoral debacle this year by getting out front in support of comprehensive, much-needed reform.

House Republicans are ready to implement Brooks’ first recommendation to immediately hold new leadership elections, not just for Tom DeLay’s position, but all the leadership spots. Brooks suggests that Republicans look to younger talents within the party such as Paul Ryan (WI), Eric Cantor (VA), Mike Pence (IN) and Mark Kirk (IL). Replacing DeLay and company with the likes of Roy Blunt (MO) or John Boehner (OH), both of whom are deeply entangled with the K Street crowd, simply won’t cut it. Brooks also insists that House Republicans should immediately remove Rep. Bob Ney as Chairman of the House Administration Committee, given his close ties to Jack Abramoff as laid out in the government’s plea agreement with him this past week.

Next, Brooks recommends that Republicans reform the budget process in order to get a grip on the earmarks, which are spending measures individual members attach to budget bills to fund their favorite pet projects in their districts. Brooks suggest either a one-year moratorium on all earmarks, or a law limiting earmarks to no more than 1% of any spending bill’s total cost.

Lobbying reform is a must as well Brooks suggests. An immediate ban on all lobbyist-paid travel should be enacted. Brooks believes that, if a trip is worthwhile, it should be paid by the government and members’ spouses should be allowed to accompany them on the trip. He believes that the growing number of former legislators who are now working as lobbyists should be barred access to the House floor, and that all communications between lobbyists and legislators should be posted on the Internet for public viewing.

Enforcement of House rules is essential to protecting the integrity of the legislative process Brooks insists. He believes that, if all legislation is posted online at least 72 hours before it is offered for a vote, staff and bloggers will be able to pick it apart and expose corrupt attempts to subvert the process.

Ethics committee reform is another important step Brooks offers. He believes that the current committee lacks enough independence to scrutinize members activities. He suggests delegating the investigating work to a commission of former members and staffers, who are not beholden to any of the current members. The existing committee could then act on the recommendations of the independent investigative body.

Finally, Brooks recommends that Congress abide by the pay-as-you-go budget rules. This forces Congress to offset new expenditures with spending restraints, which not only imposes fiscal restraint but also forces pork barrel projects to compete for the limited resources.

Even with these much-needed changes, far-reaching damage will be done to the credibility of Congress, Republicans in particular, by the Abramoff scandal. But the reforms are absolutely critical to re-establish some level of trust in our Congress.

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