On Oct. 7, U.S. Rep. John Barrow introduced something called the “Reclaiming Oversight of the Executive Branch Spending Act.”
What’s happened since then resembles the old philosophical conundrum: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
The political context, of course, is that Republicans have targeted Barrow, a Savannah Democrat whose district stretches to Augusta, for political extinction.
The first step: The GOP-led General Assembly redrew his district to exclude his home and political support base and to include new Democrat-unfriendly turf.
An additional step, one suspects, is that — at least on the Republican side of the aisle — any bill he drops in the hopper is considered dead on arrival.
Small wonder, perhaps, that his grandiloquently entitled act seems to have sunk in the legislative pond without leaving so much as a ripple.
Anyway, the proposal — as described by a news release from Barrow’s office — was to be a blow against “questionable spending by the executive branch,” aka the president.
It would require that all federal spending over $100 million garner explicit congressional approval.
Congress currently appropriates money within broad funding categories and lets the president spend it with minimal oversight.
“The only vetting of these programs happens after the money has already been spent,” Barrow lamented. “Congress needs to ... ensure that all programs are properly vetted and eligible to receive funds.”
He cited the $535 million in loan guarantees President Barack Obama’s administration gave the now-bankrupt Solyndra Corp. as the impetus for his legislation.
You can find references to his bill deep in the recesses of the Internet, but no news outlets seem to have picked it up as a story.
I thought the bill was interesting enough to ask around. The response from a half-dozen or so congressional offices: Almost none.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss had the most to say.
“Currently, there is no Senate version of this legislation,” the Georgia Republican replied. “However, I share concerns about giving the administration broad authority over vast amounts of money without congressional oversight... .
“The lack of accountability for programs that provide funding, like that given to Solyndra, is one of the reasons I opposed the Democrats’ stimulus package, which allowed the ... loan to be made.”
And from a spokeswoman for Georgia’s other GOP senator, Johnny Isakson:
“Johnny hasn’t had an opportunity to review ... the legislation. However, he has always been in favor of more oversight when it comes to all spending, including reviewing former obligations. That is why he has ... .”
Well, you get the idea.
I wondered from the start whether the bill would ever be taken seriously and asked Barrow’s spokesman, Doug Moore.
“It’s always tough to say whether or not something will take off,” Moore said. “Generally, I think something like this has a low chance of success, but I’ve seen less likely things pass.”
Recently, Moore expanded on that a bit.
Such a bill would stay on hold as long as a congressional “Supercommittee,” which last week gave up on its deficit-reduction quest, was still trying, he said.
Moreover, he added, concerning Barrow’s bill:
“It’s probably not going to go anywhere. When you’re a vulnerable member of Congress, people don’t go out of their way to pass anything you introduce.”
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it ... .