Congress Back in (In)action

by Jeff Fleischer

(Mother Jones, September 8, 2004)

House of representatives

Intelligence reform will no doubt dominate discussions on Capitol Hill now that Congress has returned for a crammed 27-day session. But both the Senate and House have crowded plates before their planned Oct. 1 adjournment.

The Senate, in particular, faces a daunting task on appropriations bills. Twelve of 13 bills haven’t been voted on yet in the Senate, while the House still has three appropriations-bill votes pending. Just the sheer volume of that work virtually ensures it won’t get done on time, as The Hill reports:

“Capitol Hill leaders have already voiced skepticism that the entire process — including the conferences to iron out any differences between the Senate and House versions of each appropriations bill — will be completed in September. Some even go further, saying the process could continue into the next year.”

In the meantime, Republicans plan to use the deadline-driven session to deemphasize this outstanding work, instead introducing some politically polarizing legislation. As the New York Times reports, that includes a string of dubious wedge proposals. There’s the always-popular constitutional amendment against flag-burning, which has repeatedly failed in the Senate despite passing the House. The House plans to vote on a constitutional ban against gay marriage, a proposal the Senate shot down in August. And, the GOP House leaders want to pass a law prohibiting courts from hearing challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance (wonder how the Supreme Court will rule on that one). Minority Leader Tom Daschle is showing little patience for the Republicans’ strategy:

“We should be dealing with the security of the American people, and the Republicans appear to be poised to use the remaining time to score political points.”

But that’s not all. Tom DeLay wants to pass a resolution highlighting the “successes of the war on terror,” an inherently worthless piece of legislation designed to keep Sept. 11 alive as a campaign issue. As the Hill explained:

“The resolution will address the nation’s success in routing the Taliban in Afghanistan and its accomplishments in capturing and killing al Qaeda operatives, thwarting terrorist plans, toppling Saddam Hussein and introducing democracy to Iraq.

“‘It will go through a whole litany of successes of the war made necessary by the attacks of 9-11,’ said Stuart Roy, spokesman for DeLay.”

This is what Congress plans to waste time on instead of the aforementioned appropriations bills. There’s also the long-debated highway bill, which President Bush has promised to veto if it costs more than $256 million, leaving Congress with a mandate to trim. And Congress is going to have to handle the political hot potato of tax cuts, as the Los Angeles Times points out:

“Continuing disagreements within the Republican majority dog plans to extend three of President Bush’s tax cuts. Some Republicans are eager to give the president a victory on an issue for his re-election campaign.

“Yet voting to extend the cuts — an increase in tax credit for families with children, an expansion in the number of taxpayers in the lowest 10 percent tax bracket and relief for married couples — poses a challenge for those in both parties who have been trying to rein in the deficit by insisting on offsets for tax cuts and spending.”

Clearly, there’s enough for both houses to contend with – even after the expected and needed debate on intelligence reform – for DeLay’s tactics to cause voter outrage. With more than 50 percent of voters already disapproving of congressional performance, the L.A. Times notes:

“If the coming session does not go beyond such political gestures, the 108th Congress will have a slender record to show for this year. And polls show voters have noticed.”

Congress has 57 days to do something about it.

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