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Curbing GOP's iron rule in Congress


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Curbing GOP's iron rule in Congress

 

By Marty Meehan | July 16, 2004

 

LAST WEEK Congress held a critical vote on whether the FBI should have the power to search people's library records without a judge's approval.

 

The vote began in the usual manner, with every member having 15 minutes to record an "aye" or "nay." After 15 minutes, a majority of members voted to pass the legislation. Under normal circumstances, the chair would have brought down the gavel and announced the final vote tally.

 

Instead, the Republican leadership kept the vote open for an additional 23 minutes. During the time, Republican leaders twisted the arms of rank-and-file members to switch their votes until eventually they were able to bring about a defeat.

 

Unfortunately, such abuses of power have become the norm in Congress. The Republican leadership governs with an iron fist, laying down the law and bending the rules to ensure the outcomes they want.

 

Worse, Congress often operates in secrecy, shutting out the minority and the American people while the door remains open for special interest lobbyists.

 

The abuse of power in Congress reached new levels with last year's Medicare bill. How that awful bill became a law is instructive of all that has gone wrong in Congress: First, the bill was written with the heavy support of industry lobbyists, who spent an unprecedented $140 million to lobby Congress. An army of nearly 1,000 lobbyists stormed Capitol Hill -- nearly half of whom enjoy special access because of past government service.

 

Republicans refused to allow Democrats to participate in the negotiations on finalizing the bill. Not known at the time, two of the key Republican negotiators were at the same time interviewing for high-paying jobs with the drug industry and its lobbying firms.

 

The saga came to a head last November, when Republicans called a vote on the Medicare bill at 3 a.m. After 15 minutes, the bill was defeated. But the leadership held the vote open for nearly three hours -- a new record. At close to 6 a.m., Republicans were able to eke out a victory. That people were "persuaded" to change their votes is no secret. In fact, the House Ethics Committee is investigating an allegation that one member was offered a bribe.

 

The Medicare bill was nothing more than a special interest sham. It wouldn't have stood a chance of passing through a fair and transparent process. But fairness and transparency are lacking in Congress. Instead we have lock-out negotiations, a revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms, last-minute votes on bills few have read, and bills forced through with no opportunity for amendment.

 

There was once a time when Republicans were deeply concerned about fairness -- when they were in the minority. In the early 1990s, Republicans protested Democratic abuses of power and proposed reforms. To their credit, they institutionalized some of these changes when they retook Congress in 1995.

 

But many of their best ideas fell by the wayside. Ten years into the Republican reign, they've taken heavy-handed leadership to new levels. It is time to revisit the best ideas from the past and update requirements for openness and transparency to end abuses of power and restore democracy to Congress.

 

This week I introduced the Democracy in Congress Act of 2004. The legislation challenges Democrats and Republicans alike to put aside partisan concerns and commit to improving the legislative process.

 

This bill would stop the majority from holding votes open to twist arms, scheduling votes after midnight, and blocking all amendments to force through controversial legislation.

 

It gives members of Congress and the public time to read legislation by posting all bills online for three days before they are voted on.

 

It forces members to attach their names to "earmarks" -- last-minute additions inserted into bills, often in secret.

 

Finally, it expands disclosure of lobbying information to shine light on the shadowy world of influence-peddling. Any citizen should be able to find out which lobbyists are meeting with what members on what issue and whether campaign contributions are involved. Members of Congress and executive appointees who are seeking employment with lobbying firms while they're still serving the public should have to publicly disclose potential conflicts of interest.

 

Contrary to the teachings of high school civics class, the actual operation of Congress is not democratic. It is a national embarrassment. We can do better to live up to the ideals of our democracy. Forcing Congress to operate in a more fair and transparent manner won't guarantee perfect results, but it will ensure that good bills are at least considered and that bad votes are exposed in the light of day, not rammed through in the dark of night.

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You're probably not old enough to remember when there was a dem majority in house and senate - but I am. The same sort of things happened back then too.

 

Congress isn't run "democratically" BTW - its been parlamentary procedure forever and there's a rules committee that agrees on particular rules for debate on various pieces of legislation, which may change from time to time.

 

The escape hatch is always a senate fillibuster. The current divisions aren't enough to force cloture if everyone falls on party lines - this means fillibuster CAN be used to stop anything.

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Did you even read the article? The man is not even talking just about this time of Republican controlled congress and senate. He is talking about the rules that the Republicans themselves put into practice long ago after a long hold by the democrats. This is what happens when one party has the absolute control of the legislative power. Things need to change, but how, I don't know.

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Gosh Tonyi, you don't sound like a mature person to me... Are you sure you are as "old" as you say you are? You sound like RippyO or Sorianofan most of the time, using personal attacks and cheap shots... :mischief2 I wonder if you are not just someone else pretending to be the "know it all"....

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Gosh Tonyi, you don't sound like a mature person to me... Are you sure you are as "old" as you say you are? You sound like RippyO or Sorianofan most of the time, using personal attacks and cheap shots... :mischief2 I wonder if you are not just someone else pretending to be the "know it all"....

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Well gosh that's constructive. Thank goodness you're too good to resort to personal attacks. Oh wait, you just did! I am officially cross-eyed now.

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Maturity is subjective - ignorance of procedure and history is absolute.

 

Since I don't see you disputing my comments, I'll take that as acceptance of their validity :mischief

461796[/snapback]

 

I didn't know that your comments needed to be disputed since you already proved that in fact there is too much partisanship going on under both Democratic and Republican Governments... That was exactly the point of my thread. :thumbup

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Maturity is subjective - ignorance of procedure and history is absolute.

 

Since I don't see you disputing my comments, I'll take that as acceptance of their validity :mischief

461796[/snapback]

 

I didn't know that your comments needed to be disputed since you already proved that in fact there is too much partisanship going on under both Democratic and Republican Governments... That was exactly the point of my thread. :thumbup

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If that's the case, then one has to wonder about the thread title since there's no mention of the 40 years or so of past Dem abuses dating back to FDR.

 

Why is this?

463698[/snapback]

 

It was the title of the piece that I quoted. :thumbup

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Maturity is subjective - ignorance of procedure and history is absolute.

 

Since I don't see you disputing my comments, I'll take that as acceptance of their validity :mischief

461796[/snapback]

 

I didn't know that your comments needed to be disputed since you already proved that in fact there is too much partisanship going on under both Democratic and Republican Governments... That was exactly the point of my thread. :thumbup

463486[/snapback]

 

If that's the case, then one has to wonder about the thread title since there's no mention of the 40 years or so of past Dem abuses dating back to FDR.

 

Why is this?

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It was the title of the piece that I quoted. :thumbup

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Do you endorse that title or are you willing to disclaim it as deceptive and the whole piece generally ignorant of what has gone down previously?

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I don't think it is deceptive because you said yourself, there is too much partisanship in the government. What do you want to argue? There is nothing to argue. We need a solution.

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I don't think it is deceptive because you said yourself, there is too much partisanship in the government. What do you want to argue? There is nothing to argue. We need a solution.

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Not presenting the historical context where the Dems did equal (or worse) things for 40 years or so would generally be considered deceptive.

 

IOW - the writer is a propagandist and the piece attempts to present the current situation as if its some sort of heinous new innovation designed to repress the (now) minority dems.

 

I'm not convinced anything needs fixing. This is basic majority rule. If the public has a problem with it, they will fix it in voting booths.

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Whatever dude. I don't need to convince you of anything. I post here to dicuss issues, not to try to convince your hard core self that I am right. :thumbup

 

Chill out, have some fun... Drink some tea.

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