Power of the purse accountability


Bob Williams, president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, once served as a Washington state legislator. He often tells the story about a state government department that didn’t want to provide him and other legislators with requested information. So, Williams cut the department’s budget to zero.

What happened next? Williams and his colleagues got the information he had requested.

Back in Oregon, a Cascade colleague recently spoke with an Oregon legislator who said he’d been trying to get information from various state departments for years—with little luck. My colleague recounted Mr. Williams’ story and suggested the Oregon legislator zero out the budgets of recalcitrant departments.

Holding public servants accountable is one responsibility of legislators and those in Congress. For instance, consider the war in Iraq. Many blame President Bush for waging it, and many in Congress are speaking out against continued U.S. involvement.

However, Congress, starting with the House of Representatives, holds the power of the purse. That is, Congress can cut the budgets for federal programs, agencies or activities, including the military. Refer to Article 1, Sections 7 and 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Thus, Congressmen and women who oppose U.S. actions in Iraq could work to shut off funding for this endeavor.

Legislators and Congress have the power — and the responsibility — to hold respective public servants accountable. That accountability can be exercised through the power of the purse — anything less is just political grandstanding.

Kurt T. Weber is vice president of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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