For those of us who have worked in Washington, and in particular on Capitol Hill, it is hard to explain the specific ways in which the Federal Government grows so fast and how taxpayers’ money gets wasted so excessively. Sure, everyone “gets it” to some degree, but unless you’ve lived it, you don’t know how it actually happens.
Well, back on January 28 of this year, in the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, there was a case study in how it all works and how Senators show not only an inability, but a total lack of desire, to be accountable with your money.
In short, Senator Tom Coburn dared to question the powers-that-be about the quick passage of S.2924, the re-authorization of $85 Million per year for the Boys and Girls Club, a billl that would spend $425 million in taxpayer money over the next 5 years. He raised the legitimate question of the $2.2 million the organization has paid for lobbyists over the last 5 years, the over $653 million given to the organization by the Federal Government over the last 10 years even as the organization raised over $650 million from private sources last year alone, the $1 million salary for the CEO and a number of other concerns.
The Committee basically ignored his concerns without any real discussion, and only Senator Kyl joined him to vote against the re-authorization – with Ranking Republican Sessions actually co-sponsoring the bill. The video of the hearing is worth watching – to see just how much Senator Coburn was alone on an island while the Committee Ranking Republican simply sat on his hands (fast forward to 37:20 in the hearing), largely because the committee is filled with non-conservative staff who are unwilling to take a stand.
Yesterday, Senator Coburn rounded up the support of Senators Kyl, Cornyn and Grassley to send a letter to the Boys and Girls Club asking some specific questions about the nature of the BGCA’s spending, its revenue sources and very specific questions about compensation, and use of funds. That is a great first step. And, not suprisingly, the letter has generated quite a bit of news today by way of an AP story (see, e.g., here). And equally not suprisingly, the focus of the media is on the CEO pay.
But that’s only one small part of the much more troubling question… which is, why on earth are taxpayers subsidizing an entity – however much good it may do – that raised hundreds of millions of dollars last year alone?
So, let me take a shot at walking you through how it works, because the scene was a fairly typical one and it is instructive. Please stick with me for a moment.
1. Each committee meets on a regular basis to hold an Executive Business Meeting, or a “Mark-up” as it is called. In the case of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it is held each Thursday around 9:30AM. The Chairman (Patrick Leahy) sets the agenda, which includes the scheduled business items – a list of bills that have been referred to the committee and executive nominations to be considered.
2. There are thousands of bills introduced each year – making it impossible for staff to follow every one. When the Chairman decides to put a bill on the agenda, often staff has never seen it before, or certainly hasn’t had time to study what often is a complex matter – or at least one deserving of scrutiny (as is the case with this bill).
3. Staffing matters. On most committees, the Chairman and Ranking Member have most control over staffing. On Judiciary, there are some staff who work for each member, but whereas Senator Coburn, for example, only has 2 or 3 on his Judiciary staff, Senator Sessions has, maybe, 15-20. And the burden of negotiating the legislation or nominees generally falls to the “full committee” staff – that is, in this case, the staff of Senator Sessions.
4. If, then, the Ranking Member’s staff is not fighting a bill because, either, they are gutless non-conservatives (bing, bing, bing) or the member is in the tank for some bill and the staff is too gutless to fight it, it falls on a random staffer of one or two other Committee Senators to try to actually do the hard work.
5. Now, what these “full committee staffers” will do is give you some claptrap about a bill being “an authorization,” and “not actual appropriations,” so they can hide behind their gutlessness. Yet – it is this bill that authorizes said expenditure – in this case, $425 million of YOUR money (actually your kid’s debt) to go to an organization that is fully able to fund itself.
6. Then, when you get to the committee mark-up on Thursday, high paid lobbyists will come run over and raise hell – while the Ranking Member has “worked out” the bill with the Chairman by way of his staff. Then that staff will try to blow the bill through without actual debate.
7. After the bill is reported out it sits in limbo for a while – and then will be offered on the floor in some unanimous consent package, or, maybe by itself. Why? Because who in the hell can possibly object to a unanimous consent request on the floor of the Senate to pass such a bill – and thus to deny funding for the Boys and Girls Club? I mean, what terrible human being would so something like that?
8. Now that the funding has been authorized – it’s up to the appropriators.
9. Appropriators are corrupt.
That’s how it works. That’s how your children will lose their birthright. Because gutless fools in Washington like to think themselves as caring by doling out money to organizations who are perfectly capable of raising money themselves – and which, like thousands of other organizations, know that it can raise hundreds of millions of dollars from Uncle Sam a lot faster than actually working.
This is how the country crumbles – one “good deed” at a time, countless ladder-climbing staffers at a time and countless gutless Senators at a time.
This must change. And it must change now.