Thursday, July 31, 2008

Running On Empty

Congress is stumbling towards one of its longest summer recesses. The Republicans, for the first time since losing the 2006 elections, are finally acting like a viable opposition party. Their issue is forcing a vote on offshore drilling. Speaker Pelosi is stalling any real action until her pollsters and operatives find a way for Democrats to respond to consumer pain at the pump while not alienating environmentalists.

Once again Washington politicians want Americans to turn to them for leadership, but hope empty rhetoric will suffice. They top Marie Antoinette – it is now “let them eat symbols” instead of “let them eat cake”.

Policy avoidance would be enough for Americans to dislike and distrust Congress. However, members from both parties are also proving they have not lost their appetite for graft and corruption. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. He has admitted to raising $12.2 million from companies and individuals, associated with his committee, for the “Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service”. He has also used his power to earmark tax dollars for his Center. Many of the “gifts” look like back door donations that skirt federal election and tax laws. This sordid paper trail was even too much for The Washington Post, which launched its own investigation and has bluntly editorialized about the whole matter not passing “the smell test”.

Not to be outdone, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of making false statements to conceal lobbyist gifts. It is the first criminal charges filed against a sitting Senator in fifteen years (when fellow Republican David Durenberger was indicted). This complex web of transactions and undocumented improvements to Stevens’ vacation home are part of a larger FBI probe into corruption within the Alaska state government. In 2006, the FBI raided the offices of six Republican state senators looking for evidence of bribes from the Veco Company. It is no wonder they attracted FBI attention. The six state senators had unfortunately called themselves the “Corrupt Bastards Club or Caucus” to the point of creating coffee mugs and baseball caps emblazoned with “CBC”. Equally unfortunate for Senator Stevens, his son, Ben Stevens was a member of the CBC.

Corruption, dysfunction, issue avoidance, and empty rhetoric have become the framework within which Congress operates. It is dismaying that the Democrat-led institution took less time to lose its way than when it was led by the Republicans. Americans deserve better. We have ninety-seven days before the November elections to demand better.

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