Let sunshine in on spending

Nov 10, 2009

Six months have now passed since the stimulus law (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) was passed hurriedly by Congress in February. Billions of our hard-earned tax dollars were injected into the ailing economy. In that mad rush, we were told there wasn't time to work out all the details. Few of us in Congress voting on the bill knew where the money was headed.

Yet, this wasn't the first program rushed through Congress in the last year. In October, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was enacted in a crisis atmosphere, as we were told that nothing less was required to rescue our financial industry and the global markets at large.

They hid details of the plan and some of the money wound up going to buy up General Motors Corp.! It should not have been surprising; every taxpayer knows federal dollars can go from zero to 60 in 10 seconds or less.

Each of these two laws cost upward of $700 billion. These were the largest spasms of federal spending in history, and our children and grandchildren will be paying off the debt for years to come.

As a representative of the people of eastern Washington state and a member of the House Republican leadership, I wanted to know: Where did the money go? It wasn't easy to find out, but I have put together a Web site that makes the answers easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

The site is sunshine.gop.gov, and it tries to let some sunshine and transparency into the use of TARP and stimulus funds. It details all the TARP funds paid out by the Treasury and the status of those funds to date, whether they have been repaid and whether dividends due from the banks are current. To track stimulus spending, the site has a robust and flexible search engine, allowing anyone to look at the flow of federal funds by project, vendor or geographic area.

The other area of potential waste that I wanted to highlight for concerned citizens originates right here in Congress, through earmarks. These funding requests often favor parochial projects that may not benefit the whole country but that are important to a particular member of Congress.

At their worst, these earmarks have bought us "the bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, the Woodstock Museum in New York, and other pork projects that cannot be justified. In the interest of full disclosure, I have requested funding for projects on occasion when they were a priority for the nation and a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds.

At the start of the 111th Congress, our party's leaders asked me to chair the House Select Committee on Earmark Reform. Committee members' opinions on earmark reform varied widely. But we all agreed on the need for increased transparency in the process.

Which earmarks are wasteful and which are wise? One man's meat is another man's poison. So, I asked our staff to put all the government earmarks – Republican and Democratic — on the sunshine.gop.gov Web site so every American could see where the money is going.

It wasn't easy collecting information from more than 400 government Web sites and putting it in one place for you to access. But it's your government, and you should know how your money is being spent.

I'll say proudly that congressional Republicans welcome the scrutiny of federal spending, and we're determined to keep the flow of dollars — down to the smallest projects — open and transparent to the public. I know many Democratic members of Congress feel the same way, too.

If you're curious where federal money is going in your community, log on to sunshine.gop.gov to determine what organizations received funds and how the money is being spent. If you see something out of the ordinary, we hope you'll let your elected representative know. On the site, you'll also see proposed Democratic and Republican legislation that increases transparency.

Just as you're able to keep track of your bank account, your videos and your tunes online, you should be able to use the Internet to watch your federal government spending your money.

Thousands of watchful citizens can help keep everyone honest, so log on today to sunshine.gop.gov. Find out what your tax dollars have been doing while you were away at work.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is a Washington Republican and vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.

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