Viewpoint: Let's work together to get America's economy moving
As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi convenes the 111th Congress this week, she does so against the backdrop of an ailing economy -- with very real consequences for Americans.
Workers across the country are struggling to make ends meet, and families are learning how to do more with less.
It is clear that our nation is facing challenging and uncertain economic times.
And it is apparent that no single solution will reverse the course of our financial woes. But we shouldn't let that stop us from doing what we can to get America's economy back on track.
Among the first legislative items Congress will consider this year is a broad economic stimulus package.
While any such legislation will undoubtedly contain many items that appeal to some members -- and some items that appeal to many members - no amount of economic stimulus will solve our economy's ills unless we also address the reckless spending problem that is pervasive in Washington.
Over the years, the congressional earmarking process has evolved into a corrupt and broken system with no regard for merit.
Both political parties share the blame for this wasteful practice that has eroded public confidence in our ability to marshal the nation's financial resources.
I continue to hear outrage and disappointment from Minnesotans about the way their hard-earned tax dollars are spent.
When times are tough, it is difficult to justify directing millions of dollars to such "priorities" as $2.4 million for a retractable shade canopy at a park in West Virginia or $300,000 to market specialty potatoes to high end restaurants, when they could instead be applied to real needs within the community -- such as the roads and bridges we travel every day, the schools that educate our children, and resources for the men and women who keep our towns and neighborhoods safe.
In fiscal year 2008, Congress spent more than $17.2 billion on more than 11,610 earmarked projects. This out-of-control spending is particularly egregious as states across the nation are forced to make difficult decisions to keep their budgets balanced.
Right here in Minnesota, Governor Pawlenty has made the tough call to trim $271.4 million in state expenditures to balance the state's budget for the current fiscal year.
American families, similarly, have no choice but to balance their budgets. In the real world, those who spend more than they earn face real consequences -- from blemished credit records to foreclosed homes to repossessed cars.
In Washington, however, Congress can continue to write checks long after the account is depleted. This irresponsible behavior must end.
As my first act of the 111th Congress, I will ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehner to put an end to the wasteful earmarking process.
Our constituents demand increased transparency and deserve the assurance that federal spending decisions are based on merit.
Our efforts to end wasteful spending must also extend to consideration of any economic stimulus legislation. When we begin debate on a stimulus package, Congress has a responsibility to ensure any and all federal expenditures help -- rather than harm -- our constituents and contribute to the long-term stability of the national economy.
We must ensure this legislation is a vehicle for carefully considered spending that will yield results -- rather than an excuse to throw money at projects that meet the criteria of certain interest groups.
We must weigh whether proposals would indeed stimulate economic growth - or simply add to our national debt.
As Congress moves forward, we will need to work alongside the President-Elect and his Administration. I am encouraged that President-Elect Obama campaigned on an anti-earmark platform, promising to reduce congressional earmarking to 1994 levels - from $17.2 billion to $7.8 billion.
I urge him to honor his commitment by retaining and enforcing the 2008 Executive Order entitled "Protecting American Taxpayers from Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks."
This would be a promising demonstration of his intent to be a partner in the pursuit of a more equitable system of federal spending -- that warrants the trust of the American taxpayer.
Minnesotans deserve to know their Representatives are carefully monitoring how their tax dollars are being spent. I encourage my colleagues to work together to achieve the outcomes that are in the best interest of our constituents -- and all Americans.
Kline (R), of Lakeville, represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District. Recently elected to his fourth term in Congress, he is a member of the Ethics Committee, the Education and Labor Committee, and the Armed Services Committee.