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Future Tense

This Congress is throwing away our democratic traditions.

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Call them -- irresponsible ... Call them -- unreliable ... Throw in -- undependable too ... Yes, it's undeniably true -- the Congress of the United States makes Bart Simpson look like Averell Harriman.

The grownups have left the building. Good grief, what a horror show.

Thanks to David Chen of The New York Times for catching one little horror that might have gone unnoticed. "Senate Rejects Plea for Extra Year of Filing for 9-11 Awards." Only 60 percent of the families who suffered losses on 9-11 have so far filed for compensation, presumably because of the notorious confusion and difficulty surrounding the process, with massive amounts of paperwork required. The deadline is December 22nd, and administrators of the Victim Compensation Fund have been scrambling for weeks to encourage families to apply. Language difficulties and in some cases lack of citizenship make it even more complicated and frightening for some.

Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey tried a classic tactic just before adjournment -- going to the Senate floor and asking for unanimous consent. Couldn't get it. Republican leaders opposed.

Here's an immortal quote from F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee: "The chairman views the extension as unnecessary and has concerns that it would provide a disincentive for people to file." Uh-huh.

And you may be wondering, given the condemnations of the Medicare "reform" bill from both left and right, which side actually won. It's so fabulous -- they both lost. The Wall Street Journal, which is furious about the bill, is right. So is The Nation, and it's right too! Hooray! A bill so awful absolutely everyone hates it! Yes, it is a huge new entitlement costing $400 billion over 10 years. No, it will not help many senior citizens! It's the silliest bill you ever saw -- it has a hole in the middle of it just like a doughnut, and it will be used to destroy Medicare. It uses taxpayer money to help drug companies and insurance companies and HMOs, all the while running up debt, debt, debt.

And did they win ugly. The Medicare bill went down in the House -- it lost. And then the Republicans just held the vote open, for three hours, from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., until Tom DeLay could bludgeon some sleep-deprived members into changing their votes.

The same morons who wrote this bill also passed, again this year, for the third year in a row, more tax cuts for corporations so that regular people will have to pay more and we have even less money with which to do anything useful. Not that they let that stop them -- they were in there just appropriating pork barrel like there's no tomorrow. Whee, what a giveaway. Santa has nothing on them. All you had to do was be a big special interest donor to the Republican Party, and it was whoopee time at the Capitol. The only bad news for the big corporations is that the Republicans couldn't get the energy bill, the ultimate Christmas gift for the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries, passed. But wait 'til next year.

Ooops, they also failed to meet their most basic responsibility -- the $820 billion spending bill is two months overdue. The good news is that when passed, the spending bill will gut gun-control laws and cut money for AIDS in Africa.

At least we'll never have to listen to Republicans calling Democrats "big-spenders" again. To hell with the gag reflex, the laughter alone will be deafening. What a Never-Neverland they live in, just like Michael Jackson. What's so maddening is that we have nothing to show for all this spending -- our education hasn't been improved, our health-care system is still falling apart, the air is getting dirtier, and we're killing the oceans, lakes, and rivers. There's no planning, no investment, no thought for the future. They're throwing away the seed corn, and we're sitting here watching it happen. It's not just the money they're throwing away, it's democratic traditions -- bipartisanship, compromise, sound public policy.

Am I exaggerating? I don't think so -- you look at the legislation and tell me. This country is dirtier, poorer, and less fair as a consequence of breathtakingly irresponsible misrule. Twenty-four percent of American workers now make less that $8.70 an hour, and they have effectively lost their right to unionize.

As Harold Meyerson reported in The Washington Post, "When European employers look to the United States, they see roughly the same thing that U.S. employers see when they look to China: millions of low-wage workers who have all but lost the right to organize and a government intent on keeping things the way they are."

It has been apparent for some time that much of the corporate elite in this country is blinded by greed, not just to long-term interests but to simple honesty. I think the same thing is starting to happen to our political leaders.

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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