Monday, April 10, 2006

Republican Congress Gone Fishing All Year Long

As I have been saying for months on this blog: The Republicans are not interested in ethics reform in Washington D.C.

What has helped me come to that conclusion is their inaction, their attitude, and their own words. (Boehner has said he is against ethics reform)

I am not the only one who has noticed either.

It seems everyday now their are tons of op-eds and article bashing the Republican Congress for their inaction on ethics and other big issues.

The following op-ed echoes those same sentiments:

Congress has gone home — again.

On Friday, lawmakers began a two-week break for Easter. The last break was two weeks ago — a seven-day recess for St. Patrick’s Day.

At this rate, they will spend fewer days in Washington this year than any time since President Harry S. Truman ran against the “do-nothing” Congress in 1948.

The lackadaisical schedule and the inability to pass major legislation have some asking: Is Congress broken?

Members of the House left unable to pass a budget. The Senate watched a bipartisan deal on immigration come unglued, leaving in tatters President Bush’s hopes for comprehensive border security and guest-worker legislation. The House Ethics Committee cannot bring itself to examine pending complaints against fellow members. Fix Social Security before baby-boom retirees exhaust its reserves? That’s for another day.

Hamstrung by partisanship and internal Republican divisions, lawmakers increasingly are unable to address complex national problems such as a broken health-care system and out-of-control spending on prized programs.

The Republican majority shuts Democrats out of the legislative process. Democratic leaders warn colleagues not to align themselves with moderate Republicans.

“The more you work, the more mischief is made because of more acrimony on the floor. Then there’s more bloodletting,” said Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican.

Some scholars and current and former lawmakers say that besides being unable to tackle difficult issues, Congress has lost its standing as a branch of government equal to the executive and judiciary. With single-party control of the White House and both houses of Congress, legislative oversight of the administration has been hesitant at best, and more often nonexistent.

To be sure, the Bush administration has not helped. On Thursday, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for stonewalling questions about the administration’s domestic eavesdropping program.

“How can we discharge our oversight if, every time we ask a pointed question, we’re told the program is classified?” Sensenbrenner asked Gonzales. “I think that … is stonewalling.”

Gonzales said he could not discuss classified matters. “I do not think we are thumbing our nose at the Congress or the courts,” he said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is designed to operate as one of the most bipartisan committees of Congress, has bickered across partisan lines over its responsibility to hold the Bush administration accountable for the domestic surveillance program and the use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

“One of the things that strikes me about the Congress is its timidity,” said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who is considered a respected voice on foreign policy as the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “There are a good many members who don’t want the Congress to be a co-equal branch of government. They buy into the idea that the government can only function if you have a very strong overriding executive.”

Former Rep. Mickey Edwards, an Oklahoma Republican, said the Republican leadership in Congress has not only ceded power to the president, it has acted as an extension of the White House.

“If you start looking toward the president not only as on your team but the leader of your team, the quarterback of your team, it freezes your ability to take the initiative,” Edwards said. “Republicans are now tending to think of themselves as part of the White House staff. Democrats instead say: ‘We’re the opposition. We have to stop him because we have to gain control.’ ”

The result is an increasingly polarized legislature. House Republican leaders, eager to press Bush’s agenda, changed rules, excluded Democrats, and wrote legislation behind closed doors to meet the administration’s policy goals. Able to pass legislation with bare GOP majorities, Republicans found bipartisanship unnecessary.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, brings legislation to the floor only if it has the support of a “majority of the majority,” even if that means ignoring legislation that has broad bipartisan support.

Democrats respond in kind. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California imposed strict discipline over her ranks, refusing to yield any Democratic votes to the majority.

In the Senate, where senators tend to act with more independence, Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada set up a communications “war room” to attack Republican initiatives, and party-line voting became more common.

Congress’ allegiance to the White House has faltered recently as Bush’s approval ratings fall, Democratic leaders hold their troops in line and Republican unity frays.

House Republicans have refused to embrace Bush’s call for a guest-worker program as part of an immigration bill. A Senate compromise bill faltered on Friday, and few predict that the House and Senate will find common ground on a bill in this congressional election year.

Republicans also have been squabbling over setting a budget, with moderates demanding more money for domestic programs and conservatives insisting on tighter spending restrictions. Democrats, unwilling to help Republicans out of their jam, have simply watched from the sidelines with a certain amount of glee.

“Republicans, who had been a phalanx of support for Bush, now are in a cacophony,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Josten said lawmakers this year face a “minimalist agenda session.”

The light agenda, the partisan acrimony and the rising sense in both parties that control of Congress is up for grabs in this year’s election have made it easier for leaders to send their troops home.

“Part of our job is here, but part of our job is to see our constituents,” House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said recently when asked about the congressional work schedule. “And it is an election year and people want to see more of their constituents, and their constituents probably want to see more of their members.”

But Congress’ schedule may have an unintended result.

In the House, not only are members taking more breaks, their weekly work schedule also amounts to about two days a week. Leaders now regularly schedule one vote late Tuesday and hold the last vote Thursday. One result, some former members say, is a loss of collegiality that helps facilitate legislative compromise.

Congress is scheduled to adjourn Oct. 6, and plans recesses in May, July, August and September. If the House keeps to its Tuesday-Thursday workweek, that leaves just 51 legislative days for members to get to know one another better — and to get something done.

Whether it be failing America on ethics or any other issues, the Republicans have shown that they are not capable or worthy to lead this nation.

Comes this November they will get the message as Congressman Harold Ford Jr. will be elected to the U.S. Senate a Democratic majority will be in control.

Read about Congressman Ford's actions on ethics reform here! (1 , 2, 3)

Read about John Boehner's views opposing ethics reform here!

Read about John Boehner's broken promises regarding ethics reform here!