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The Essential Oversight

128795724923852116.thumbnail.jpgGiven the history of their recent run at ruling America, congressional Republicans are particularly attuned to the possibility of revolting displays of mismanagement and fraud on the public dime 

Republicans are preparing to pounce on any wasteful spending in the $787 billion stimulus package as they refocus their criticisms of a measure whose success could hurt their 2010 election prospects.

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 GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.

"We’ll be taking a look in detail" and "really providing accountability and transparency," Cantor said in an interview Wednesday.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement: "House Republicans are concerned about the potential for abuse of taxpayer funds in the massive trillion-dollar spending bill that the president signed into law this week. … We will remain vigilant in our oversight efforts."

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California said Republicans want the economy to improve as much as anyone does, even if it allows Democrats to claim credit. But as the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he is trying to exceed Democrats in holding the government accountable for the stimulus bill’s spending.

If the much-maligned financial sector bailout is a guide, then "unchecked efforts to rapidly spend billions of dollars involve significant risks of waste, fraud and abuse," Issa said in a letter to the inspectors general of the major federal agencies.

Well, shit. I have to agree with Eric "real estate and brokerage donations are way down, and Abramoff’s in jail – thank goodness the wife’s working" Cantor, John "not all my lobbyist friends are under indictment" Boehner, and House Republican oversight sachem Darryl "dude, Darryl Issa? the guy who stole the cars?" Issa that oversight is real important. Which is why I’m real shocked that nobody did anything to try and combat waste in the stimulus legislation.

Oh, no, wait. They did. And then Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Oversight Committee, held the stimulus package hostage until it came right back out.

The House stimulus bill contained a provision designed to protect federal whistleblowers. Currently, those protections are shockingly weak. According to the Project On Government Oversight, whistleblowers who are fired or demoted can file a complaint with a government board — but over the last eight years, that board has ruled in favor of whistleblowers only twice in 55 cases.

More to the point, the protections were designed to encourage federal workers to point out cases where taxpayer money is subject to waste, fraud, or abuse — a legitimate concern when Congress spends $800 billion, and one that centrists and Republicans have been particularly exercised about.

Yesterday, 20 members of the House, from both parties, sent a letter to House negotiators urging them to ensure that the protections remained.

But, according to a person following the bill closely, Collins used today’s conference committee to drastically water down the measure, citing national security concerns as the reason for her opposition. In the end, the protections were so weakened that House negotiators balked, and the result was that the entire amendment was removed.

According to the person following the bill, Collins was the "central roadblock" to passing the protections.

To make matter worse, Collins is the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs commitee, which, as an oversight committee, might be expected to see its role as protecting whistleblowers. She also sits on the Senate appropriations committee, giving her a strong position from which to wield influence during today’s negotiations.

Though Senate leader Harry Reid supported the protections, said the source, he wasn’t willing to strong-arm Collins on the issue, given her central role in negotiations over the stimulus bill as a whole.

So, you know, feel better, boys. The lack of oversight is the one truly bipartisan compromise in this package.

Or, you know, just shut up.

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Middle-aged (thank god); married (oddly enough); native New Yorker; one (thoroughly magnificent, thanks) child, She Who Must Be Obeyed, aka HM (Her Majesty). But a mere lowly end-user by profession, and a former [pretty much everything, at least in somewhat limited first-world terms].

Extravagant (mostly organic) cook, slapdash (completely organic) gardener, brain space originally assigned to names and faces piled up with the overflow from the desperately overcrowded Old Movie and Broadway Trivia section, garage space which was originally assigned to a car piled up with boxes of books.

Dreadful housekeeper, indifferent dresser, takeout menu ninja and the proud owner of a major percentage of the partially finished crafts projects on the east coast of the continental United States.

The handsome gentleman in the picture is Hoa Hakananai'a. He joined the collection of the British Museum in 1868. His name, which is thought to mean "stolen or hidden friend," was given to him by his previous owners when he was collected.