Friday, May 14, 2010

Your House of Representatives at work

Having rammed through hundreds of billions of dollars in wasted stimulus spending, Obamacare and an unpopular climate change bill that is going nowhere, the Democrats in the House of Representatives seem exhausted. Wary of doing anything else that might tick off their constituents, they have just thrown in the towel and are now simply grandstanding their way until they recess and can go home to campaign to be sent back to D.C. in order to rinse and repeat.
A routine science competitiveness bill may have crystallized what the House chamber has become at this moment in a frightening political cycle for Democrats: little more than an election-year staging ground.

Over two days, Democrats turned the ho-hum America Competes bill into a 54-amendment marathon — allowing vulnerable incumbents to sponsor dozens of feel-good amendments to tout back home.

Exhausted from a brutal 16-month stretch that produced a health care law, stimulus funding and a climate change bill, House Democrats seem worn out. They’ve clipped their workweek to a 42-hour period from Tuesday evening to midday Thursday, sprinkling a light schedule with long debates on noncontroversial bills that could easily pass without a formal vote. The five-day workweek is long gone.

So they’re left with less substance and more politically convenient amendments.

During Thursday’s debate on the competitiveness bill, John Boccieri of Ohio added $50 million to a manufacturing program; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico tried to make his home state’s federal labs eligible for “innovation” funding; and Loretta Sanchez of California brought school administrators into the fold on the president’s advisory council on science and technology. The three Democratic lawmakers — and several others who offered similar amendments — just happen to be facing tough reelection races.
They all want to get something on the record that they can brag about to their constituents rather than talk about what they've done that isn't selling well. So they offer up these feel-good amendments and hope no one will remember their other votes.

Remember when the House Democrats were going to work a record five days a week - none of those pansy hours that previous Houses had been in session? Well, forget about that. They're just in town for a few days and they're so busy passing these nothingburger amendments that they don't have time for the real work they're supposed to be doing like, say, passing a budget.
t’s not that there’s nothing big left for the House to do — the budget, annual appropriations bills and war funding bills haven’t moved much. It’s just that there’s little appetite among Democrats to have a fight on any more controversial issues before they face the voters.

Thus, simple bills that pass with little debate — a post office naming here, an honor for the late Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell there — are filling the schedule.
Well, the GOP can play that game, too.
But while Democrats tried to play out this string this week and use the House as their own campaign battlefield, they were ambushed on Thursday.

Republicans used a procedural maneuver to force a vote on an amendment that was just as politically pleasing to them. The GOP proposal would ban salaries for workers who look at pornography on government computers, prohibit funding in the bill for colleges that ban military recruiters and slash overall spending authorization levels.

Democrats ended up yanking the bill — at least for now — and slammed an exclamation point on what had been another extremely sleepy week in the House.

When Republicans offered their amendment — through a procedural tool called a motion to recommit — most Democrats voted to kill it. But once it became clear that enough Democrats would vote for it because of the anti-pornography and military-recruiting clauses, dozens of Democrats shifted their votes. Ultimately, it prevailed 292-126, forcing Democratic leaders to put off a final vote on the science bill.

A senior GOP aide said that Democrats had prohibited Republicans from offering their own amendments, so they resorted to this procedural maneuver to embarrass Democrats.

“Perhaps if they had made these amendments in order and allowed the House to work its will on these important subjects, the entire exercise wouldn’t have been for naught,” the aide said.

The level of political gamesmanship on both sides was underscored by the fact that, in 2007, the House passed the original version of this America Competes bill by unanimous consent in less than an hour.
Sure, let's all feel good and help out endangered Democrats. We can kick the can on the budget and appropriations down the road and then pass some ginormous omnibus bill packed with all sorts of goodies and pernicious elements that no one will actually have time to read before the leadership forces a vote at midnight because they have to rush, rush to do the "work of the American people." You know the drill.

And when they're voting on thousands of pages of unread bills, remember back to these sultry days of their do-nothing weeks in May.

2 comments:

Bachbone said...

The Tuesday through Thursday "work week" has long been a congressional perk foisted off on voters by pols saying they needed to be back in their home districts to stay in touch with constituents' views. After hearing those views and passing legislation that the majority didn't want passed, Congress should stay in Washington, do some real work and stop trying to tell voters they are listening to anything other than, possibly, calls from lobbyisis and Obama while back home.

tfhr said...

Bachbone,

With all due respect to you and the point you wish to make, we don't want them back here in DC.

In fact, I recommend that they come to town only to pick up their paychecks once each month or better still, enroll in electronic deposit and stay the hell home. The current crop of self serving politicians will do us all less damage that way.

Perhaps limiting government could start by limiting the amount of time these parasites can spend in the capitol. I'm thinking of the manner in which the Congress once met for limited periods where representatives were distracted from their businesses at home only long enough to consider the nation's business before returning home to resume their livelihoods. I don't think we are served well at all by a permanent political class that puts career advancement and preservation ahead of the needs of the country.

I always start with TERM LIMITS but also I wouldn't mind seeing these jobs changed to a part time status with very limited benefits and virtually no chance of achieving a life time pension.

An elected representative that must live a life reflective of that shared by his or her constituents, influenced by the laws passed, as with constituents, and dependent on an earned income independent, in the long run, from government would, in my opinion create an actual representative. Such representation would necessarily draw upon people that truly understand the concept of "public service". As it stands now, we are the public that serves our representatives and who among us finds that acceptable?