Issue Position: Fiscal Respnsibility, Ethics, and Government Reform
Whether in the form of corrupt lawmakers, bloated bureaucracies, or unethical behavior, stories about government waste and corruption have become an all-too-familiar part of the political landscape in recent years. Maintaining public faith in government means continually holding elected officials and government to higher standards of accountability. This is not a partisan issue, but ought to unite Republicans and Democrats. In this regard, I believe we can draw some inspiration from the example set by a former member of the Colorado delegation, retired Representative Joel Hefley (R-Colorado Springs) who led the House Ethics Committee for years, and who always insisted that ethics was not a partisan issue.
Beyond setting the highest possible standard of ethical behavior, I also believe that Congress should insist on policies that restore fiscal discipline to our federal budget and a healthy dose of reform when it comes to the operation of government.
Government Spending, Appropriations and Earmark Reform
Coloradans are rightfully concerned about where their tax dollars are going and whether or not lawmakers are sneaking pet projects (so-called "earmarks") into appropriations bills without accountability or legislative review. Many of these earmarks are for good purposes, but I recognize that when Congress passes them without debate or public scrutiny they can also be a source of corruption and fiscal abuse. That is why I have cosponsored the "Earmark Transparency and Accountability Act," which would help prevent this problem by insisting that earmarks be identified in the text of legislation before Congress votes on appropriations bills. This will help keep earmarks in the light of day and under public scrutiny.
I also believe that we should have a moratorium on earmarks, and recently joined my colleagues, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Rep. Henry Waxman, in voluntarily doing so for this fiscal year.
I also believe it makes sense for Congress to impose term limits on Members of the Appropriations Committee, which is arguably the most powerful spending committee in Congress. It seems to me that it would be healthy for the legislative process if the Appropriations Committee had more turn-over in membership and less power concentrated in the hands of a narrow few.
I have also sponsored legislation that would give the president line-item veto authority to cut wasteful spending in the federal budget. Since 2005, I have introduced the Stimulating Leadership in Cutting Expenditures (SLICE) Act, which would authorize the president to identify specific items of federal spending that he thinks should be cut and would require Congress to vote on each of those items. Unlike the version of the line item veto that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998, SLICE is constitutional because it maintains Congress' power of the purse by requiring congressional approval of all the president's proposed cuts. Additionally, I was the chief Democratic sponsor of H.R. 4890, the Legislative Line-item Veto Act, which the U.S. House passed in July 2006 by a vote of 247-172 with 35 Democratic votes.
In addition, I am the sponsor of the "Commission on Unfair Tax Breaks and Subsidies (or "CUTS") Act of 2007," which would establish a commission to investigate and determine where unfair tax breaks and subsidies are being doled out at the federal level and report them to Congress. If passed into law, this legislation would help Congress fulfill its oversight function by casting light on hidden tax breaks and subsidies that undermine fiscal accountability and bilk taxpayers.
Ethics in Government
Elected officials should be beyond reproach, and ethical standards should guide Members of Congress to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The potential for elected officials to be unduly influenced by special interest lobbyists or to be tempted to use an elected office for personal gain disturbs all Americans, and so we must insist on the highest ethical standards for those who hold public office.
In this regard, I have consistently supported legislation that would curb the ability of lobbyists to improperly effect public policy. In the 109th Congress I supported legislation that would end the ability of lobbyists like the infamous Jack Abramhoff to gain special access to members of Congress, and in the 110th Congress I was proud to support a new rules package that would end the practice of lobbyists giving gifts and paying for travel for Members of Congress with the intention of changing public policy.
Equally important for ethics in government is preserving the principle that elections should be contests of ideas and abilities, not a means by which candidates and their families make personal money. This is why I have sponsored the "Campaign Expenditure Transparency Act" as well as the "Candidate Anti-Corruption Act" during the 110th Congress. Both of these bills, if enacted, will prevent candidates for federal office and their immediate families from receiving salaries composed of campaign contributions.