Monday, October 04, 2004

Congress is the key

It seems that I keep hammering away on this point, but I'm going to do it again. Constitutionally, Congress is the real key to power in Washington. The President implements rules and runs foreign policy and suggests nominations to certain positions. However, Congress writes laws that can overturn rules and it can turn down nominations. Congress can also overturn presidential vetos.

Newt Gingrich convinced Republicans that this was the case and that if they figured out a way to take control of Congress, then they would hold real power. Democrats, arrogant as they were, never suspected that Gingrich was a force to be reckoned with. Now Democrats focus on the President and the veto power as a means of protecting themselves from Republican policy since it seems that they haven't figured out a way to retake Congress.

So, how have the Republicans changed Congress since they have been in power? The Boston Globe is running an in-depth, lengthy article on the machinations of Congress both before Republicans took control and since then. It's informative and is really a must read for people who care about politics. The Democrats and the Republicans are both to blame for wielding the power of the legislative branch to thwart democracy. Yet things have gotten steadily worse over the past 20 or 30 years.

Some of the major findings:

The House Rules Committee, which is meant to tweak the language in bills that come out of committee, sometimes rewrites key passages of legislation approved by other committees, then forbids members from changing the bills on the floor.

Congressional conference committees added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret.

Bills are increasingly crafted behind closed doors, and on two major pieces of legislation -- the Medicare and energy bills -- few Democrats were allowed into the critical conference committee meetings, sessions that historically have been bipartisan.

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