Monday, October 04, 2004

The Dracula Congress

The Boston Globe has an excellent article by Susan Milligan detailing the backroom dealings of the 108th Congress. The shroud of secrecy and blatant disregard for rules exhibited by the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate should come as no surprise, given the atmosphere fostered by the Bush Administration. Among the unwritten rules: No changes can be made to legislation once it has been re-tooled by conference committees closed to Democrats. No bills that displease the White House are allowed to come to a vote. No dissent of any kind is allowed. (Loyalty oath, anyone?)

The Republicans, of course, remind us that the Democrats abused their power when they controlled Congress. Fair enough. It was the Democrats who changed the make-up of the powerful Rules Committee to give the majority party a 2-1 advantage. But the statistics about their behavior don't bear out quite as fair and balanced as the Republicans might have you believe.

The number of bills the Rules Committee allows to go to the floor under "open rules," that is, bills to which any member may offer amendments, has dropped steadily. By the count of the then-minority Republicans in the 95th Congress in 1977-78, 85 percent of nonappropriations legislation in the House were offered under open rules.
This dropped to 57% overall and 30% for nonappropriations bill in the last Democrat-controlled Congress, according to the article. Those numbers are pretty disappointing. The Republicans can surely do better, no?

In the current Republican-led Congress, according to statistics offered by both parties, the percentage of nonappropriations bills open to revision has dropped to 15 percent.
This new way of handling legislation does have its benefits, at least to select parties.

The dearth of debate and open dealing in the House has given a crucial advantage to a select group of industry lobbyists who are personally close to decision-makers in Congress. A Globe study of lobbying showed that on the Medicare and energy bills, businesses and other groups who reported lobbying on the two measures spent a staggering $799,091,391 in efforts to influence lawmakers, frequently employing former members of Congress, former staff members, and relatives of lawmakers to lobby on the bills.
Over three-quarters of a BILLION dollars. On just two measures. Using family, friends, and former lawmakers.

I'd like to think this is the most depressing and infuriating fact revealed in the piece, but unfortunately, it's only the first of a three-part series. Stay tuned.

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