George Will

WASHINGTON -- Disraeli knew of a lady who asked a gentleman if he believed in Platonic friendship. He replied, ``After, but not before." For congressional Republicans, after has arrived.

     After Abramoff. After DeLay. After the ``K Street Project" -- the torrid and mutually satisfying dalliance of Republican members with lobbyists. Now Republicans are prepared to be, or at least want to be seen to be, chaste. They are determined to devise reforms to steer Congress away from the shoals of sin, so they are receiving many suggestions from Washington's permanent cohort of Dawnists.

     Those are people who believe that, given good intentions and institutional cleverness, an era of civic virtue will dawn. They are mistaken, but there are some  reforms that, although they will not guarantee virtue, will complicate vice, which is as much progress as is possible in this naughty world.

     End the use of continuing resolutions. Adopted at the end of fiscal years when Congress does not complete appropriations bills, continuing resolutions usually authorize the government to continue spending at current levels. If Congress had to get its work done on time -- if the only alternative were a chaotic government shut-down -- it would. Then Congress would have less reason to loiter in Washington doing mischief. Speaking of which ...

     Forbid appropriations to private entities. Government money should flow directly to government agencies -- federal, state or local. And those agencies should be required to formally testify that local projects receiving national funding serve (BEG ITAL)essential(END ITAL) national needs. Appropriations that are, effectively, cash flows from individual representatives to private entities are invitations to corruption. Federal money directed to private entities was what ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., was bribed to deliver.

     So, end ``earmarks." They write into law a representative's or senator's edict that a particular sum be spent on a particular project in his or her state or district.

     Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, has written to the House leadership that, ``With the number and dollar value of earmarks more than quadrupling over the past decade, pork-barrel spending has become an unfortunate hallmark of our Republican majority." Arguing that additional restrictions on lobbying, although perhaps needed, would be ``peripheral reform at best," Flake says, ``We first have to look at our own conduct." To do otherwise ``would do more to feed public cynicism than restore public confidence."

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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