November 26, 2003

a new tone in dc, sachiko m style

back in june of 2000, then-governor bush called for 'a new tone of respect and bipartisanship in washington.' it was the dawn of a new era, of compassionate conservatism, and bush wanted to restore honor and respect to the legislature. you could see it in his eyes that the dark days of the clinton era were almost over:

"We need a clean break from the recent past. It is time for leadership that sets a new tone," said Bush, who described the legislative atmosphere in Washington during the Clinton Administration as "wracked by strife."

and so bush hopped, skipped and jumped into the white house, and a new dawn came over the land. birds sang, flowers bloomed, and deer ran freely through the forests while bear cubs and alligators played go to pass the time in the new eden. this harmony also came into washington, dc, where the bugman tom delay happened upon it and promptly exterminated it.

In the session now limping to its conclusion, Democrats have been excluded from conference committees, where the majority seems to view them as a pesky irrelevance. On the energy bill, they were shut out entirely. On prescription drugs, a favored few Democratic senators inclined to support the bill were allowed into the room. But Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), who had voted for the Senate measure and been appointed to the conference by his party, was barred; so were all House Democrats. And while conferences are supposed to resolve differences between the two houses, these days legislation often emerges with provisions previously unseen -- and undebated -- in either house. Other provisions approved by both chambers disappear in conference. Lawmakers are then confronted with an unappetizing up-or-down vote on the entire package.

yes, i believe that's the bipartisan tone bush was talking about, because shutting the opposition party out from having even a semblance of input is what democracy is all about. republicans scream about a handful of right-wing judicial appointees that have been blocked as being harmful to the democratic process, but what about this? these are the actions of a party with a mandate, and not even the 2002 elections gives them the right to act like this.

who cares if your actions keep most of the members of congress from actually reading the full bill right up until they have to vote on it? perhaps republicans are afraid that if real and nuanced debate occurred, they might lose.

or, even worse, they might have to compromise.

In the House, where the majority has the parliamentary power, the ability to offer amendments is constricted, and often curtailed entirely, with Democrats stopped from even offering their alternative for a vote. Debate is abridged to the point of parody. On prescription drugs, each side had an hour to present its views on one of the biggest changes in Medicare since its enactment. But when the time came to vote and Republicans lacked a majority, the haste evaporated. The customary 15-minute limit for voting was stretched to close to three hours, as GOP leaders confronting a loss bludgeoned members to switch their votes. While this was the longest such stretch, it wasn't an aberration: The majority has kept the vote open about a dozen times in recent years. Adding time to a vote may not seem like a big deal, but when it's done in contravention of the usual practice and solely for the purpose of achieving the desired outcome, it leaves lasting bitterness.

pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. as the wapo editorial notes, they're playing by the rules, even if they are stretching them. except this is like playing in overtime even though you lost the game and illegally substituting the star halfback to repeatedly run the same play until he finally scores a touchdown that puts the team ahead.

and why are republicans playing like this? because they want it all. they are in power, and they want to stay there, and it appears that they'll do anything they have to in order to achieve that goal. this is not how a political party operates when they expect that they might get knocked out in the next round and find themselves the minority again. for all the wailing of clinton teaching our children about blowjobs and defaming the institution of the presidency, the gop leadership has, in essence, given the middle finger to the democrats and said, 'this is how it's going to be. don't even try, because we're not gonna let it happen.'

medicare. the energy bill. the 'healthy forests' initiative. the 'clean air' act. the texas redistricting fiasco (not only does the bugman run the house of representatives -- we all know he does -- but he also controls the texas legislature, too). leave no child behind. the tax cuts. the federal deficit. it goes on and on and on. they are slowly strangling and dismantling the government from the inside.

who is going to pay for all of this, anyway? the medicare overhaul runs at 400 billion dollars. at some point down the road, something's going to have to be cut, and it sure ain't gonna be the defense budget (400 billion dollars for the next fiscal year alone) cuz we're at war forever!

the reason, unfortunately, is simple. as the junior senator from new york said, republicans 'are on an ideological march. They have no intention of playing fair. They want what they want when they want it.' and, as hillary clinton knows all too well, when the republican machine is gunned up to full strength, they will stop at nothing to obtain their desired outcome.

now, i'm a reasonable person, so i'll let someone else say it instead.

'I don't mean to be alarmist, but this is the end of parliamentary democracy as we have known it,' said Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. The new system amounted to "plebiscitary democracy" in which leaders of the House have imposed such a strong sense of party discipline that they will ultimately pass whatever legislation they bring to the floor.

it still amazes me that democrats are still willing to cross party lines on a regular basis at this point. you just have to look back to the 2002 elections where bush waltzed through states and campaigned against senators and representatives who had compromised on legislation so it would actually pass and not die. don't they ever get tired of the knives in the back?

at this stage, republicans are playing to win for good, and i don't just mean 2004. they are stacking the deck to keep themselves in play as the majority for a long time, and if the democrats don't wise up to it soon, it won't matter if they're in office or not.

thanks, george, for the new tone that's cleaving my skull in two.

Posted by kilgore at November 26, 2003 07:41 AM | TrackBack
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