Monday, May 24, 2004
America deserves better #5
In my last letter, after I oversimplified Dean's "take back America" message, I received a letter from Howard Dean clarifying his meaning.
This fifth letter is mainly from one of the recipients of my other letters. It deals with one of the dangers facing our American system of government today, and is a subject I had on my list to get to. However it expresses the issue better than I ever could.
I have noted over the last 2 or 3 years that most people with a lifelong party affiliation never question that affiliation, and simply accept on faith that their party must be right. I think we now live in a time when we can no longer afford that luxury. Looking at history, the Republican party started as a third party, driven mainly by Northern Whigs who were split from their Southern brethren over the issue of slavery
It is a great paradox that the present Republican party is creating a climate that in a prior period would have prevented it's own birth. I strongly urge the traditional Republicans among us to shake off their comfortable faith and begin to look objectively at what is happening. I know that is a hard and uncomfortable thing to ask, but it is also our duty as responsible citizens. Times change, and as they do it is incumbent on all of us to periodically re-examine our stands.
The following was contributed by a friend:
I strongly support a two-party, or even better a multi-party, system. I believe that concentration in the hands of one party leads to distortion or even corruption of the political process. A healthy debate with differing views should make for better decision-making.
Unfortunately, both major political parties seem to be in crisis today. The Democrats, contrary to popular rhetoric, are beholden to much the same interests as the Republicans when it comes to business interests. Campaigns are so costly that contributions come in the form of large bundled donations from corporations and lobbyists. (The Center for Public Integrity has a new book out, “The Buying of the President, 2004” which lists major contributors to all the nominees of both parties.)
Although unions support the Democrats, their power is substantially less than the corporate interests. Evidence of this is the recent bill containing the elimination of overtime pay for an estimated 8 million people - passed with bi-partisan support.
And the Republican party of today has become an extension of big business with powerful support from extreme religious fundamentalists. The current administration is not a conservative one. They have expanded big government, have created enormous deficits that threaten the financial stability of this country, and are creating a police state in their zeal for destroying civil liberties and privacy rights. When a fervent Republican such as former Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia joins forces with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight the Patriot Act, you begin to get a flavor of the extremes of this administration.
But what is truly frightening is the Republican goal of total control of the government and the courts. If you think I am being overly alarmed, read the synopsis of an article in the Feb 2004 issue of The American Prospect. The title is “America as a One-Party State”, and it illustrates what is at stake in the next election. It’s quite long, so I’ll summarize:
If Bush is elected in 2004, we are headed for total domination by the Republican party which will be extremely difficult to reverse as the rules are becoming increasingly rigged.
1. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has such iron control over the House and uses [mduffin3] such parliamentary gimmickry that he has all but eliminated any opposition.
2. Electoral rules are making it harder to displace the incumbent party (districts are drawn to create “safe” seats – for both parties; however, the Republicans have the advantage in incumbency). In addition, the recent successful attempt to redraw Texas congressional districts would likely shift 7 seats from the Democrats to the Republicans.
3. The federal courts will be so dominated by the right that they will function as a rubber stamp for the administration.
These are some of the ways DeLay has perverted the democratic process:
* The power to write legislation has been centralized in the House under Republican leadership. In the dead of night, the Republicans under DeLay, have drastically revised bills approved by committee. Under House rules, 48 hours are supposed to elapse before votes; but in 2003, the leadership wrote rules to declare bills as “emergency” measures 57% of the time – so that House members had only 30 minutes. Members, in many cases, did not know what they were voting for.
* Legislation is being written without allowing for floor amendments.
Using rules specifying the terms of debate, DeLay now brings virtually all major bills to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments. Any party member voting against this rule is threatened with losing committee assignments and campaign funds and can expect DeLay to sponsor a primary opponent to run against them. One recent example was the Medicare prescription drug bill. Most representatives were sympathetic to amendments allowing drugs from Canada and letting the federal government negotiate lower prices. DeLay made sure these amendments were not attached.
* Democrats are being blocked from conference committees.
After bills are passed in both Houses of Congress, they head to a conference committee to reconcile the differences. Increasingly the Democrats are being barred from attending unless they are willing to accommodate the Republicans. On the Medicare bill, Tom Daschle and Jay Rockefeller were excluded, while the conservative Democrats John Breaux and Max Baucus, were allowed in! On this bill, members had one day to study 1000 pages, much of it written from scratch in conference (by corporate interests). So much for bi-partisanship – as well as the welfare of seniors!
* Legislation is being written without hearings.
Writing new legislation in committee was almost unheard of before DeLay. Again, in the Medicare bill, major provisions sprung entirely from conference. And, the omnibus spending bill just passed includes provisions that were explicitly voted down in each house – a weakened media concentration standard, the watering down of overtime-pay protections for workers, and the delay in country of origin labeling for food products.
The 2003 House procedures state: “The House conferees are strictly limited in their consideration to matters in disagreement between the two Houses. Consequently, they may not strike out or amend any portion of the bill that was not amended by the other House. Furthermore, they may not insert new matter that is not germane to or that is beyond the scope of the differences between the two Houses.” As the author of this article says: “Like the rights guaranteed in the Soviet constitution, these rules are routinely waived.”
* Appropriations bills are being loaded with special pork.
Appropriations bills always pass as they provide the money to run the government, and there have always been modest abuses of so-called “earmarks” for pet pork-barrel projects. This practice is now rampant. Over $10 billion of these “earmarks” were added to the omnibus bill just passed. Examples include $50,000,000 for an Iowa rainforest; $1,000,000 to teach young people to play golf (sponsored by DeLay); $750,000 for a taxidermy museum in Utah.
Not only is this process wasteful, but the fact that the money is “earmarked” means it cannot be used for more important items in each governmental department. (The taxidermy museum is in the same budget as the VA-HUD bill.) For more detail (probably more than you want to know): http://www.house.gov/appropriations_democrats/PorkReport.pdf
In addition to all the above, DeLay has perfected a technique called “catch and release”. On close votes, the vote count is taken and strict party discipline is imposed to make sure that the majority has the number of votes needed to pass a bill. Depending upon the count, some members will be reeled in or let off the hook to vote “no”.
According to Michigan Republican Nick Smith, the leadership threatened to oppose his son’s campaign to succeed him unless he voted for the Medicare bill. The final roll call was actually held open for three hours into early morning so that the leadership could pressure legislators to vote for the bill. In 1987, when Speaker Jim Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes, then-Representative Dick Cheney termed the move “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.”
There is a lot more to this article (including the danger of an ultra-right take-over of our judiciary), but I wanted to provide a summary to let people know how the democratic process is being hijacked in Washington, D.C.
Democrats are said to be reluctant to bring this issue up as many are convinced that nobody cares about “process” issues or they fear being seen as whining losers. I personally think that Democratic voters should file suit under the 14th Amendment’s clause of “equal protection under the law”. Republican citizens should join this suit as their interests are not being represented either as much of the legislation comes directly from industry. I’m not an attorney – but something needs to be done to highlight the near dictatorial control by Tom DeLay.
To read this article in full, go to http://www.prospect.org/print/V15/2/kuttner-r.html
And to learn more about the horrible omnibus spending bill just passed, read Senator Byrd’s speech of January 21, 2004 by going to http://byrd.senate.gov, clicking on Speeches, January, and then the date.
Personally, I believe Tom Delay is one of the 2 most dangerous men in elective office in the USA today. His sole motivation is power and he is quite willing to corrupt our democratic processes to maintain it. America deserves better. Take back our system of government. Defeat this administration.
Best regards, Murray