DownsizeDC.org
January 24, 2007
Last Week in Congress
By James Wilson
The 100-hour legislative orgy is over, and on one level Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats can claim that they delivered what they promised. That depends, of course, on the definition of “100 hours.” As this Register-Guard editorial points out,
The 100-hour period could be stretched to 15 days because the clock didn't start running until six days after Pelosi's election, and then stopped whenever the House was not officially in session and working on legislation. The result, as The New York Times noted, was something like a combination of "dog years and the last two minutes of an NBA game."
Also,
Each of [the bills] is a complicated piece of legislation, and to expedite action the Democrats prevented Republicans from amending the bills. By freezing out Republicans, the Democrats were engaging in payback; when the GOP was running the show, the Democrats were relegated to the sidelines. Yet the Democrats had promised to do things differently, giving the minority a larger role. Treating Republicans as colleagues rather than as furniture would make congressional partisanship less toxic, and might even produce better legislation. Yet at their first opportunity, the Democrats showed themselves willing to deny the minority a role when it suited their purposes.
In other words, the House didn’t really allow for open debate on the bills. Not only that, but as is their custom, they didn’t read the bills. House Resolutions 65 and 66 provided the rules for the consideration of bills H.R. 5 and H.R. 6, respectively. Both resolutions said “the bill shall be considered as read” meaning “let’s not read the bills but pretend we did.” These bills were: H.R. 5 College Student Relief Act - 12 pages This would lower interest rates on federally-guaranteed student loans. This stop-gap measure doesn’t address the fundamental problem, which is federal aid to higher education. Federal aid actually makes college more expensive, and at the same time makes a college degree less valuable. It creates more “customers” and greater demand for college education, which only encourage them to raise tuition. Federal aid also encourages students to graduate and enter the workforce already saddled with thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in debt. Meanwhile, standards suffer and as more mediocre students graduate, a college degree isn’t looked upon with as much value as in the past. H.R. 6: “Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act” - 16 pages Despite the gradiose title, much of this has to do with tax deductions and royalties for drilling on federal property. The best way to keep energy abundant and energy prices low, of course, is to let the market operate according to the laws of supply and demand, and to tell oil companies that the security of their overseas drilling is their own business, not the U.S. military’s. If oil is too scarce, other cheap energy sources will be discovered or developed. The energy “problem” is largely the government’s creation. The other “100 hour” bills were passed the previous week. The House also passed on other measures not officially in the 100-hour agenda: H.R. 434: “To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 through December 31, 2007, and for other purposes.” - 4 pages This was a “Suspend the Rules and Pass” measure, meaning with the consent of two-thirds of the House the bill was voted on and passed without debate. Congress should someday realize that the best way to “help” small business is to de-regulate them, cut their taxes, and otherwise leave them alone. H.R. 475: “To revise the composition of the House of Representatives Page Board to equalize the number of members representing the majority and minority parties and to include a member representing the parents of pages and a member representing former pages, and for other purposes.” - 6 pages This reform is a response to the Mark Foley fiasco of last September. In contrast to the House, the Senate took two weeks to consider just one bill: S.1 “Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007.” Unamended version: 56 pages (amended version not yet available.) A major victory for DownsizeDC.org was passage of Bennett Amendment 20, that struck section 220 of S.1. Section 220 would have regulated grassroots organizations like DownsizeDC.org, and compelled them to waste significant time and expense filing reports. The evident purpose was to crush organizations like ours, and its defeat was a significant victory. Much of S.1 places rules on members of Congress, not on private individuals. Unfortunately, Amendment 65 appears to “To prohibit lobbyists and entities that retain or employ lobbyists from throwing lavish parties honoring Members at party conventions.” Why not rephrase it to prohibit members of Congress from attending such parties? Lobbyists should not be held responsible for the actions of Congress. If Congress is behaving badly, the laws should regulate Congress, not the rest of us. Also disappointing is another Bennett Amendment, Amendment 81, which would “permit travel hosted by preapproved 501(c)(3) organizations.” That is, Congress can be chummy with some big-time lobbyists, but not others. In any case, we’re glad that the Democrat-controlled Senate did not rush things as the House did. Senate rules make it possible for opponents of the “100 hour” bills to block them. Let’s hope most of them die quietly in the Senate. A final note. As if they didn’t have anything better to do, members of the House introduced 127 new bills, and Senators introduced 47. DownsizeDC.org publishes this feature on weeks when Congress is in session. To see how your represenatives voted on particular bills, or to read the bills themselves, go here for the House and here for the Senate. You may also keep abreast of day-to-day activities in Congress by going to the Congressional Record Main Page and click for recent issues of the Daily Digest.
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