Transparency Police

Thousands of eyes on billions of dollars

 Republicans have thrown down a challenge to President Obama. It would be wise of him to use the "Address To The Nation" Tuesday night (it's not quite a "State of the Union") to accept the GOP's offer of "help."

The House GOP declared Thursday that they would track stimulus money spending:

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats also promise rigorous oversight, including a new Web site to help people track various projects funded by the massive bill. But the two parties will reap different political rewards if they find waste or abuse, which is virtually inevitable when the government tries to spend so much money so fast, authorities say.

Democrats want the plan to unfold as smoothly as possible, because voters see it as the product of their party and Obama. Congressional Republicans, however, opposed the bill almost unanimously, and any embarrassing examples of misused funds or other shortcomings will let them say, "I told you so."

House Republicans are setting up "a stimulus-watch program" that will allow watchdog groups and private citizens to report findings as contractors and agencies start spending billions of dollars on roads, schools, renewable energy projects and other initiatives, said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor.

"We'll be taking a look in detail" and "really providing accountability and transparency," (House Republican Whip Eric) Cantor said in an interview Wednesday.

This is actually an example where the natural suspicions between the two parties can provide a public good. Both sides have different definitions of what "transparency" means -- just as they have different meanings to a word like "waste." Regardless, the White House, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans -- and individual citizens of either or neither party, for that matter -- will all be zeroing in on how this $787 billion package makes its way through the states.

With that high number of real and cyber eyes, the sort of transparency that Obama has spoken about might actually come to fruition.

With that in mind, it would be a grand gesture if the president recognized the GOP's efforts in this regard  -- whether he's sincere or not. He might say to the American people that legislation of this size is open to abuse and that both parties -- and the White House -- are committed to seeing that the stimulus money does what it is supposed to do, i.e. stimulate the economy and not become a target for all sorts of graft artists.

In reality, $787 billion is so much money (the 15th biggest economy in the world if it were a country, as pundit Monica Crowley has noted), it will be impossible to stop some of it from getting into certain hands.

But to the extent that each party is trying to get a "win" out of this, if a few sticky-fingered types might be dissuaded from ripping off the taxpayer, well, so much the better.

Robert A. George is a New York writer and stand-up comic. He blogs at Ragged Thots. 

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