- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Conservatism’s dictionary root — to avoid waste — is clearly anathema to many in Congress.

But as Congress grows bolder in distributing tax dollars, Americans grow increasingly concerned about the historic levels of spending taking place in Washington. More than the amounts, Americans should be concerned with the “how” and the “what” of government spending.

Members of Congress have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers — which means we should spend tax dollars sparingly and cautiously. Unfortunately, not only has Washington gone on a rampant spending spree and charged the tab to future generations, it has shown a serious lack of discernment on which programs and organizations to fund.

Making the big screen this spring for egregious spending are the nearly 9,000 earmarks included in the half-trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill, the recycled spending of the yet-unrecovered Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and, perhaps worst of all, the $8.5 billion made available to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

Since 1993, ACORN has received $53 million in taxpayer-funded assistance. Since January of this year, ACORN has been made eligible for another $8.5 billion — that’s billion, with a “B.” And just last week, the House Financial Services Committee considered another bill that would use the taxpayer funds from the Wall Street bailout (TARP) to subsidize a $1.5 billion housing slush fund — increasing the funds available to ACORN to $10 billion.

With unemployment at 9.5 percent and rising, it is difficult to justify spending taxpayer money on pet projects here and there. But even in a thriving economy, tax dollars should never be used to fund organizations that have been under a cloud of suspicion because of election-fraud indictments in more than a dozen states.

This is about how Congress spends the people’s money. It is about the bar that Congress sets for accessing federal funding, which is a privilege, not a right, though Congress cavalierly treats it otherwise. We are faced with difficult decisions every day as we attempt to fund the federal government in an economic recession. However, whether to withhold taxpayer funds from an organization under indictment should not be one of those tough decisions.

Every member of Congress and every candidate has at one time or another railed against the loss of taxpayer dollars to waste, fraud and abuse. They seem to readily acknowledge that the federal bureaucracy is a sieve through which tax dollars just slip and vanish. And they are always ready to sharpen their image of fiscal responsibility by calling for greater savings by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. But, the vigilance of too many members stops there.

How can we ever begin to earn back the trust and respect of American taxpayers if we fail to protect their tax dollars from groups that have demonstrated a lack of respect for our nation’s laws? How many investigations, how many indictments and how many grand juries does it take for Congress to see that an organization has violated the public trust?

Any organization that demonstrates a pattern of disrespect for our laws and the people has not earned a piece of the pie. Congress has a duty to the taxpayers to close the door to federal funding on groups that have violated the public trust like this.

It is not only legitimate for Congress to decide the threshold for accessing taxpayer funds, it is incumbent upon us to do so. And for far too long, Congress has cavalierly distributed taxpayer money. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned — this is the sum of good government.”

This sound principle of governance is at the core of not only conservatism, but of just plain old common-sense government. Congress needs to take a lesson from Jefferson. We need to show the American taxpayer that we will no longer set the bar so low, and we will indeed say “no” to careless and wasteful spending.

Rep. Michele Bachmann is a second-term Republican who has represented Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District since January 2007.

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