2010-07-16 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Trying To Fix Washington
Commentary By Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand Kirsten Gillibrand Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, is a U.S. Senator representing New York.

As I travel the state and listen to New Yorkers, I’ve found that people have absolutely no faith that Congress is working to solve their problems.

When they look to Washington, they see a lot of people who are more concerned about scoring political points than solving problems.

I have not been in Washington long, but it does not take long to know that Washington is broken.

Everyday people are not being heard because too much business is happening behind closed doors. Over the last several months, I have put together a reform agenda that aims to clean up Washington by making government more transparent and making members of Congress more accountable to the people back home.

When it comes to transparency, I have always done my best to lead by example, and my reform agenda starts by making the earmark process completely transparent. I’ve done this since my first term in office. I list each of my federal funding requests, along with my daily public schedule and my personal financial disclosure reports on my own website.

If every American can see who and what their lawmakers are requesting taxpayer money for, we can keep people honest, end the special interest favors and reduce wasteful spending.

I’ve authored bipartisan legislation that creates a searchable earmark database in which lawmakers will have to disclose the amount of their initial earmark request, the amount approved by Committee and the amount approved in final passage. They will also need to disclose the type of organization receiving the funding and justify why they need taxpayer dollars to fund their project.

Next, we have to get corporate special interest influence out of our elections. Corporate PACs have spent over $1 billion to influence voters. Now with the corporate victory in the Citizens United Supreme Court case, private corporations will have unprecedented power to spend unlimited sums of money to buy elections.

To help keep our elections fair and honest, I am an original cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act – legislation that requires corporations to stand by their political actions the same way candidates are required to today.

Third, we need to end automatic pay raises for members of Congress. There isn’t a single middle-class worker who is guaranteed a pay raise each year, and neither should Congress. Over the last two decades, career politicians have made out pretty well.

In fact, from 1991 to 2009, the Senate raised its own pay 13 times, raising its annual salary by more than $70,000.

I’ve never accepted a pay raise in office, and I’ve opposed the automatic pay raise since Day One. Last year, I helped pass legislation to permanently end the automatic pay raise. Now, I’m writing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take up and pass that legislation in the House of Representatives.

Lastly, we have to end the culture of obstructionism that creates gridlock in Congress. We can start by banning the anonymous holds. The fact that one senator can single-handedly hold legislation hostage just to score cheap political points is shameful. These holds bring the legislative process to a screeching halt, with no way to hold the obstructionist accountable. Banning these holds is common sense.

Washington needs to actually solve problems and get things done. With 67 of my Senate colleagues, I’ve written to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to get rid of anonymous holds for good. These are just a few ideas that I believe could bring transparency and accountability to Washington. With these reforms, we would at least be moving in the right direction.

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