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25 July 2010

Time for Truth

truth America corruption poverty congress senators representatives house government politics
Here’s the problem: bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship is the concept that two opposing political groups (eg liberals and conservatives) can agree to a plan of action and pass legislation on a matter of great importance, like massive unemployment caused in part by the meltdown of the economy. There is the concept and then there is the truth. The concept of bipartisanship sounds a bit Utopian in that two groups with fundamentally different ideologies come together for the common good. The truth is that bipartisanship has become a bargaining tool used by both parties in the United States to get something they want for themselves.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 created the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008. The money was used to purchase worthless assets from financial institutions to save them from collapse. What many people do not know is that before the bill reached the desk of President Bush, Congress added an additional $150 billion to the package for unrelated spending. The additional expenditures increased the statutory allowable national debt from $700 billion to more than $11 trillion. Reference Under George W. Bush our country racked up unprecedented debt, engaged in two wars of aggression (which we are still fighting) and bailed out financial institutions to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

By the time the adding on to the bill was complete, there were so many unrelated expenditures that no member of Congress actually knew exactly what they were voting for. There was even an exemption from excise tax for wooden arrows designed for use by children. SOURCE Public Law 110-343 Section 503

So how does it happen that a piece of legislation introduced for the purpose of bailing out big banks and allegedly saving the entire world from financial collapse end up providing a tax exemption for manufacturers of toy arrows? Imagine this conversation taking place in the isle on the floor of the House of Representatives:

Joe: Hey Mary, you know I might be persuaded to vote for this bill IF there was an incentive for me to do so.
Mary: Well Joe, what would convince you to vote for the bill?
Joe: Mary, you’ve known me for a long time, and you know my brother-in-law owns a company that manufactures kids toys. He sells a lot of “cowboy and Indian” type of toys but his company has been struggling. It would help him out if he didn’t have to pay an excise tax on all those toy arrows he sells.
Mary: If we can count on your vote, submit your amendment and I will see to it that it is added without objection.
Joe: Thanks Mary.

Some people call this a compromise. Other people call this a sell out. No matter what you call it, it is a ploy to get something in return for their vote. However, it doesn’t always work this way as we have seen recently. Take the health care reform act for example: the Democrats reached out to the Republicans in an attempt to engage in a bipartisan negotiation of an important legislative act designed to address an urgent need in this Country. One of the (many) sticking points for the Republicans and a few Democrats in Congress was the public option. Some Democrats and every single Republican declared that they would never vote “yea” on a bill that contained a public option for poor people. At the time, the Democrats had enough votes to pass legislation without Republican support. Not all of the Democrats in the House of Representatives were on board and when it came to a vote 39 Democrats voted against health care reform. REFERENCE

If the Democrats had the votes to pass whatever health care reform they wanted what happened to the public option? Imagine this conversation in the isle of the floor of House of Representatives:

Joe: Hey Mary, you know I might be persuaded to vote for this health care bill IF there was an incentive for me to do so.
Mary: Well Joe, what would convince you to vote for the bill?
Joe: Mary, you’ve known me for a long time, and you know my brother-in-law is an eye doctor. He belongs to a group of physicians who oppose the public option. Now how would it look if I voted for a bill that contains a provision creating a public option? If the public option was taken out of the bill, then I might reconsider my vote on that education bill you’ve been pushing.
Mary: If we can count on your vote for the education bill, submit your amendment and I will see to it that it is added without objection.
Joe: Thanks Mary.

The difference between this scenario and the wooden arrow scenario is that Joe votes against the bill anyway even though the other side compromised and took out a provision that he found objectionable. This is how laws in this Country end up costing billions of dollars more than originally projected with add ons and have little effect in actually changing anything because key enforcement provisions are removed. By the time the two sides get through the chipping away and adding to the original proposed legislation the final law is weak and usually much more costly than originally projected due to the unrelated compromise additions.

How can we “fix” this problem? Some people have proposed that the federal government adopt the single-subject rule like that enacted by some of the States. REFERENCE But the State laws (and in some cases State constitutional amendments requiring single subject legislation) have been dismal failures. REFERENCE The legislators ignore the law and insert unrelated amendments to bills and the State courts are remiss to enforce the single subject laws. State legislators continue to add on unrelated amendments to bills through back room deals.

The American political system, from school boards to city councils, and from State legislatures to the halls of Congress, is rife with corruption. The “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” legislative process has resulted in convoluted and complex laws that are designed to benefit small segments of the population and are nearly impossible to enforce. Even those laws that contain strong enforcement provisions like environmental legislation are weakened by the numerous exemptions added on to the original bill to gain a few more “yea” votes. The financial reform bill that was recently signed into law by President Obama is another example of bipartisanship at work. Enforcement provisions were chipped away so that what began as a strong effort to control abuses by banks and lending institutions is essentially a footnote to the more than 400 unrelated amendments. REFERENCE To get the credit card reform the Democrats wanted they had to agree to an unrelated amendment to allow people to carry handguns into national parks. REFERENCE What do handguns in national parks have to do with credit card reform? Nothing. Someone wanted to appease their gun toting constituents and used credit card reform to back door the new law allowing people to pack heat when they take the kids to see Old Faithful.

The answer to the problem is clearly not more legislation. No doubt the introduction of a single-subject rule legislation would be amended with so many exemptions that enforcement procedures would be ineffectual. Supposing that single-subject legislation managed to make it to the President’s desk for his signature, it would contain billions of dollars in add ons. Want to get a statue of yourself in the public square in your home town? If you’re a member of Congress you can get that statue if you promise your vote in exchange.

The truth is that in order to get anything that remotely resembles insurance reform, financial reform, health care for the poor, or money for school books, the good guys have to make deals with the devils in Congress. The problem with making deals with devils is that devils are liars. They promise support IF you give this or take away that – but in the end they vote “NO” anyway because they know that the bill will pass with their amendments intact. Bipartisanship is a win-win for the Republicans because they do not have the votes necessary to ultimately defeat legislation, but by promising support manage to whittle away at a bill until it is impotent but replete with unrelated amendments and excessive costs.

Every effort at bipartisanship between the Republicans and anything that President Obama has advocated has resulted in compromise legislation that does not go far enough to help or to protect those who need help and protection. In the end, the Democrats appear too weak to make major decisions and pass critical legislation without at least the appearance of bipartisan support. The truth is that Republicans do not have the best interests of the Country or its people at heart. Their singular goal is to defeat every single effort made by the President and by the Democrats. By amending bills with costly unrelated add ons and amendments that undermine the original purpose of the bill, Republicans score points with the constituents who have no idea whatsoever what any particular piece of legislation really contains. Republicans add billions to the deficit with add on amendments while simultaneously decrying the deficit. Talk about having your cake and eating it! Like I said, it’s a win-win for them and a lose-lose for us.

And that’s the truth.


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