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Restoring Accountability: The New Direction Congress - A Record of Reform

The New Direction Congress, the first Democratic majority in a dozen years, pledged to restore fiscal discipline after years of runaway deficits--and to end an era of Congressional corruption and “drain the swamp” in Washington, restoring honest leadership and open government.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

CUTTING THE DEFICIT

  • In 2007 and 2008, the House passed a budget resolution that brings the budget into surplus by 2012 -- for the first time since President Bush took office.
  • This year's budget slashes the deficit by nearly two-thirds in four years (by 2013) and even further by 2014, to 3.0% of GDP.
  • It also provides for health care reform, critical to reducing the deficit - with reduced costs, affordable coverage and improved health reducing the strain on businesses, families, and federal and state budgets.

PAY-AS-YOU-GO BUDGET DISCIPLINE

  • The first thing the Democratic-led Congress did in January 2007 was reimpose PAYGO budget rules that Republicans had let lapse - placing them in the House and Senate rules.  The PAYGO rules had helped President Clinton turn over an historic budget surplus to President Bush--who quickly turned it into a record deficit.  Simply put:  Under PAYGO, Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar.
  • This year's budget reaffirmed our commitment to statutory PAYGO--to make it law.
  • Now, on June 9, President Obama and several Democratic Members of Congress, including Blue Dog Democrats, announced an effort to get statutory PAYGO enacted into law.

CUTTING WASTE, FRAUD, ABUSE, AND OBSOLESCENCE

  • On February 19, 2009, the House Democratic Leadership directed Committee Chairs to develop a schedule of oversight hearings and carefully review all federal spending within their jurisdiction in order to eliminate waste, fraud, abuse, and obsolescence. 
  • On April 27, the House Democratic Leadership also directed Committee Chairs to develop a specific set of initiatives to reduce costs, end duplication, and promote efficiency in the programs within their jurisdiction.
  • The budget contains key integrity initiatives to protect taxpayer money by rooting out waste, fraud and abuse, investing in efforts to crack down on health care provider fraud, strengthen efficiency, and reduce improper payments in such programs as Medicare and Social Security. 

MILITARY PROCUREMENT REFORM

  • President Obama signed into law reforms to crack down on Pentagon waste and cost overruns, which GAO says amount to $296 billion just for the 96 largest weapons systems.  The reforms dramatically beef up oversight of weapons acquisition, promoting greater use of competition and curbing conflicts of interest. 

COLLECTING UNPAID TAXES

  • The budget steps up IRS enforcement to collect unpaid taxes from those who are not paying what they owe, which is estimated to total $300 billion per year.  Every $1 spent on IRS enforcement generates $5 in owed taxes collected.

 

ETHICS AND LOBBYING REFORM

INDEPENDENT ETHICS ENFORCEMENT
In 2008, the House created an independent ethics panel, which was called “a strong stand against political corruption,” (St. Petersburg Times) that would “bring fundamental changes to how the House investigates itself,” (AP) by “address..[ing] the single biggest problem with the ethics committee:  things go to the committee and disappear into the black hole” (Ethics reform advocacy group Democracy 21). The measure:

  • ensures that credible allegations of wrongdoing will be examined by the Ethics Committee in a timely manner;
  • requires for the first time in history an independent review of alleged ethics violations by individuals who are not sitting Members of Congress; and
  • mandates public disclosure, for the first time, at key stages in the process, with timeframes for action.


TOUGHEST ETHICS REFORM IN A GENERATION
, passed the opening day of the 110th Congress, breaking the link between lobbyists and legislators: no gifts, no private jets, and no meals from lobbyists.
 
LANDMARK LOBBYING REFORM, with the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act signed into law, Congress has demanded an unprecedented level of disclosure.  These reforms were hailed by independent public interest groups as 'landmark,' 'fundamental,' and a 'sea change for citizens':
mandating new transparency of lobbyists bundling campaign donations;

  • ending the 'K-Street Project' by prohibiting Members of Congress from attempting to influence employment decisions in exchange for political access;
  • expanding public disclosure of lobbying activity, including electronic filing for a public, searchable database; and
  • denying Congressional retirement benefits to Members convicted of bribery, perjury and similar crimes.

EARMARK REFORM, starting the first day of the 110th Congress, with

  • Significant reductions in the total dollar amount earmarked for non-projected-based accounts in appropriations -totaling 43 percent below the 2006 level in the 2008 bills, reducing further in the 2009 bills, and reducing down to 50 percent this year.
  • Unprecedented rules for transparency in 2007, requiring that each bill must be accompanied by a list identifying each earmark that it includes and which member requested it-- to be available online before the bill is ever voted on.  Each House earmark on those lists is backed up by a public letter from the requesting member identifying the earmark, the entity that will receive the funds and their address, what the earmark does, and a certification that neither the requesting member nor their spouse will benefit from it financially.
  • Requiring all Members' earmark requests to be publicly disclosed this year on their websites at the time the request is made explaining the purpose of the earmark and why it is a valuable use of taxpayer funds.   And the earmark disclosure tables will be made publicly available the same day as the House or Senate Subcommittee reports the bill.
  • A one-year moratorium on earmarks in 2007 until a reformed process could be put in place.

 

GREATER TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

UNPRECEDENTED RECOVERY ACT ACCOUNTABILITY &TRANSPARENCY, to help ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and effectively--no earmarks, new state whistleblower protections, strong oversight, and a new www.recovery.gov website allowing Americans for the first time to track the investments online.

STRENGTHENING OVERSIGHT OF TARP, to expand the authority of the TARP Special Inspector General, to help ensure that taxpayers' funds are effectively used to get credit flowing to businesses and families. Since last fall, Congress has also held more than a dozen oversight hearings on how the TARP funds are being used.  

STRENGTHENING FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, to better protect the public's right to know and make the government more transparent. 

REQUIRING MEMBERS' OFFICE EXPENSE REPORTS TO BE PLACED ONLINE in a searchable format to provide greater transparency and accountability.