Tester's talk tough (and true)

Helena Independent Record

by Editorial

At a time when the Iraq War still divides Americans, they should at least agree that steps must be taken to clamp down on waste and profiteering. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, billions of dollars have been wasted or have disappeared.

So we were glad to see that Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined with Sens. Jim Webb, D-VA., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., inserted an amendment to a defense spending bill to establish a bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting to oversee how the money is being spent.

That gladness skidded to a halt Monday when President Bush, armed with another of his dubious "signing statements," served notice that he'll feel free to ignore the commission provision.

"The idea that the president would stand in the way of a nonpartisan, independent committee to look into waste and fraud by companies like Blackwater and Halliburton in Iraq is inexcusable and it's irresponsible, and it ought to ruffle a lot of feathers across the country," Tester said.

Those might sound like tough words coming from a freshman Senator still relatively new to his job, but they're right on the money.

Bush also reserved the right to ignore several other provisions, including expanded whistle-blower protections for government contract workers and a prohibition on federal dollars for permanent military bases in Iraq.

The commission to oversee contractors, based on a similar commission headed by Harry Truman during World War II that saved taxpayers $15 billion, would have four members appointed by Democratic congressional leaders, two by Republican leaders, one by the president and one by the defense secretary. "We deliberately took partisanship out of the equation," Tester said.

Webb said Congress intends to move forward with setting up the commission despite the president's concerns that it could "inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations." Good. As Tester put it, "Folks in Montana work too hard to have their money stolen by crooked contractors."