Yesterday, I was watching CSPAN. I've always found it to be rather compelling reality TV (who said 'Survivor' started that trend?). Even when they are just broadcasting from the floor of the House or Senate, it's fascinating to me to watch how the government works, or not. It's also fascinating to observe just how incompetent many of the elected officials appear to be, to watch the wheeling and dealing, to view them struggle to put together a cohesive thought while hiding their lack of comprehension in a rambling speech. Senators are much better at oratory skills, as a whole, than House members. Senators can go on at length in their speeches, which gives them an advantage (sometimes) while House members have to pare their messages down into soundbytes of 2 to 5 minutes. It was the House that had my attention yesterday.
Up for discussion was the Transportation and Treasury budget. Amendments to the budget bill were the focus of my viewing times. The amendments were designed to cut huge chunks out of the bill. The interesting moment came when the leader of the committee that passes the budget announced on the floor of the House that legislators should not be concerned that these amendments were passing. By one estimate, from the minority leader on the committee, 80% of the transportation budget had been cut by the amendments. No problem, explained the committee chairman. No one need worry because all of the programs cut "...will be put back in the conference committee when it resolves the bill."
In other words, the chairman was explaining that these amendments were merely for show. They were designed to allow members to go back home and announce that they had voted to cut pork, but that during the conference, all of the spending had been put back in place. The subtext of this is that the "other party" must have ruled during the conference committee votes or that Senators had demanded that it be so. No one who voted to cut spending, therefore, would have to take responsibility for their votes.
It's these types of dog and pony shows that frustrate people. If you know that you're going to end up with Bill 'X', then why pretend about cutting it in the first place? Getting elected is not your job. Running the country and passing legislation that is good for the people back home is your job.
These maneuvers also set up nasty discussions during election season. They make it difficult for anyone with a legislative record to run for higher offices in the country, whether that office is governor or president. Ask John Kerry as he takes shots from Bush. Bushies portray Kerry as a flip flopper when Bush has a sizable record of doing that himself and his decisions actually sent people to be killed in combat. It's ridiculous.
I had almost forgotten about this crap until I read a piece in the Seattle Times this morning.
Oh, and today's House story (from my perspective) revolved around the pledge (Not the furniture polish, but rather the nationalist polish). Republicans want to pass a bill stating that the pledge should say "...under God..." and that it cannot be reviewed by any of the federal courts, including the Supreme Court. Apparently, they do not want any federal activist judges messing with this, so they think it's appropriate to leave it to the individual states to decide on the pledge (ridiculous, as in theory it could lead to 50 different versions of the pledge). Remember, this is the same party that doesn't want to leave gay rights to individual states as it might be handled by activist judges at the state level and we might end up with a patchwork of laws regarding gay marriages. But, no, that's not a flip flop, is it?