Corruption fight should target government excess

Bob Tippee

Democrats deserve applause for making ethics reform the first legislative thrust of the 110th Congress.

That Congress needs cleansing is part of the reason that Democrats now control both houses. They inherit the role of sanitizer even though members of their party contributed to the mess.

On the first day of the new congressional session, the House passed a series of rule changes prohibiting representatives and their employees from accepting gifts or travel from lobbyists and from traveling in corporate aircraft.

In the stench lingering behind favors spread around Washington by imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the crackdown is refreshing. But it doesn't address the core problem.

Corruption happens when people in positions of authority have too much of other people's money to spend. It results, in other words, from oversized, overactive government.

The Democrats don't seem on track to solve that problem. They seem, in fact, determined to aggravate it.

On a calendar for the Democratic agenda published by the office of new Senate Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the date Jan. 18 has this entry: "End subsidies for Big Oil and invest in renewable energy."

Comment on the first part of that item must await clarification of what the Democrats mean by "subsidies for Big Oil." But the intention to "invest in renewable energy" is clear enough.

The Democrats plan to increase the expenditure of public money on political—meaning uneconomic—energy. They will commit other people's money to popular ideals such as lower reliance on foreign oil if not outright—and unattainable—energy independence.

All that money dedicated to all that high purpose won't go to projects able to fulfill energy needs most efficiently, which would be projects able to compete without government help.

It will go to uncompetitive projects with sponsors best able to influence official decisions, at least some of whom will know that airplane rides aren't the only way to practice persuasion.

A political party hoping to fight corruption should be seeking ways to lower the amount of other people's money in play. It can't do this while pretending to "invest" in energy, renewable or otherwise.

(Online Jan. 5, 2007; author's e-mail:

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