S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Congressional Oversight Scores

Congress is supposed to shed light on what is going on in the government. We elected them to represent us, to watch over our interests, to act as part of the checks and balances system put in place under our constitution. Their general performance has been pretty dim.

Score One for security at the water's edge - But they get a good score recently because Congressional oversight over our port security has been at its most stringent. Due to of a widespread and blistering outcry from their constituents, Senators and Members have stood strong against the UAE taking control of a number of key American ports. The Washington Post covers the latest in this story by Paul Blustein. To quote,
Dubai Ports World yesterday explained its plan to sell its U.S. operations to an American-owned firm, quelling a controversy in Congress over whether the United Arab Emirates-based company would fully divest itself of its holdings in the United States. The company said in a written statement that it expects a sale to be agreed upon within six months. The sale would be to "an unrelated U.S. buyer," it said.
Last week, the company backed down in the face of overwhelming congressional opposition to its planned takeover of terminal operations at six U.S. ports. It said it would "transfer" those operations to U.S. firms.

Score Zero for federal spending oversight - Congress, who alone holds the power of the purse, gets nothing for being fiscally responsible. Nor do they score for making their only budget cuts in social safety net programs. Borrowing as if there is no tomorrow has been the hallmark of this Republican dominated congress. They are so weak that they even let the Bush administration submit requests for most of the spending for the war on Iraq as so-called "supplemental" bills, not even counted as part of the overall budget. The Washington Post writers, Johathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray, report that,
Congress raised the limit on the federal government's borrowing by $781 billion yesterday, and then lawmakers voted to spend well over $100 billion on the war in Iraq, hurricane relief, education, health care, transportation and heating assistance for the poor without making offsetting budget cuts.
On vote after vote in the House and Senate, lawmakers demonstrated the growing gap between their political promises to rein in spending and their need to respond to emergencies and protect politically popular programs. The votes followed last weekend's GOP leadership meeting in Memphis, at which virtually every speaker called on the party to renew its commitment to fiscal discipline and to control federal spending and the deficit.
The House voted 348 to 71 to approve a $92 billion measure to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ongoing hurricane relief, after members rejected calls from conservatives to pay for at least some of that spending with budget cuts. On the other side of the Capitol, senators considering a budget blueprint for fiscal 2007 voted to effectively breach their own firm limits on spending by at least $16 billion to boost programs they said have been starved for funding.
Score a Win for lobbying - This article in the WaPo is just excellent. It is as thorough a picture as you will find for getting up to speed on the legislative lobbying issues. The "K-Street Gang" was barely tagged in this game. This is the latest news:
Lobbyists Foresee Business As Usual - Abramoff Rules Expected to Be Merely a Nuisance, according to the Washington Post. By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Sunday, March 19, 2006.

Some of Washington's top lobbyists say that they expect to find ways around congressional efforts to impose new restrictions on lobbyists' dealings with lawmakers in the wake of the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, and that any limits will barely put a dent in the billions of dollars spent to influence legislation.
Though Congress may ultimately vote to eliminate a few of the more visible trappings of special pleading, such as gifts, free meals and luxurious trips, lobbyists say they have already found scores of new ways to buy the attention of lawmakers through fundraising, charitable activities and industry-sponsored seminars. An estimated $10 billion is spent annually to influence legislation and regulations, and that spending is not likely to be diminished by the proposed lobbying changes, these lobbyists contend. . . An emerging Senate bill, which has yet to be completed, would bar lawmakers from accepting meals and gifts such as sports tickets from registered lobbyists. The leading House measure, which has been proposed by GOP leaders, would rely more heavily on additional disclosures but would also impose a temporary ban on privately paid travel.
Oversight re Katrina is is behind, though the game is not over -
After blaming Michael Brown for mistakes he made during Hurricane Katrina, the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., will be holding hearings on Hurricane Katrina contracting. For the most part Democrats have refused to participate in the work of this committee, fearing a whitewash. Gulf State representatives have been there however, most of the time. Davis has scored some points for congressional oversight, however, and should get some credit for his work. According to, MyWay & AP,
A House committee said Monday it would review several post-Katrina hurricane contracts for waste and abuse, citing recent concerns about limited oversight and the haste in which they were awarded. . . Last week, the Government Accountability Office reported in its first preliminary overview of Katrina contracts that the government wasted millions of dollars, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used. The report blamed in part mismanagement and poor planning by agencies. . . A House select committee also chaired by Davis issued a report last month saying waste in government contracts was due largely to poor planning. In one case, Mississippi officials requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency 450 trucks of water and ice. After FEMA could not immediately deliver it, state officials were forced to buy from the commercial market at an untold cost, the report said.
Political maneuvering was the game with energy - It looks like ANWR might yet lose out. Carl Pope, at the Sierra Club site, discussed the Senate's narrow vote on a budget bill provision to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Here is what he says in yesterday's post (his link):
Last week the Senate, by a narrow but still adequate 51-49 vote, chose to adopt guidelines for the 2007 federal budget that have as their premise that the single most important thing we could for our country is to turn the Arctic Wildlife Refuge into an oil field!
By a vote of 51-49, Senators voted that future congressional versions of next year's budget must include revenues from, and hence mandate, turning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over to the oil industry. There was a slight tweak this year, since there have been some intervening events -- for example, Hurricane Katrina's s devastating demonstration of how important it is to avoid destabilizing the global climate with greenhouse pollution from our fossil fuels. So this year the Senate voted to dedicate the hypothetical revenues from leasing to restoration of Louisiana's devastated Gulf Coast. This was portrayed as the reason that Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu provided the only Democratic vote for the budget -- but since the drilling revenues are very speculative, one suspects that Landrieu was more persuaded by the prospect that Ted Stevens, who dominates the Senate appropriations process, would make sure that her vote on the Arctic was taken into consideration when levels of funding for Louisiana are being considered. In fact, one can be fairly certain Stevens would consider it an insult if Landrieu had felt that she could vote on the merits of the Arctic without taking funding for Louisiana into consideration.
(The other big disappointing vote was cast by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who appears also to have viewed the merits of the Arctic as part of a large chess game in which appropriations for other programs she valued were, in the final analysis, more
important. Snowe has always said she is against drilling the Arctic. She has yet to be willing to back that view when push came to shove on the federal budget, which is obviously where the leadership intends to make Arctic drilling possible in spite of public opposition. Every year they highjack the budget and use it to sacrifice the Arctic -- and she votes for it, protesting all along that they really shouldn't be doing this but, with her vote, enabling them to do what she protests.)
On the other hand, Minnesota's Senator Norm Coleman broke ranks and stood up for the Arctic on this vote, for which he deserves kudos. This meant that this year's tally look's a lot like last year's.
The Senate and House score low with us. Ever since Republicans gained control of all governance, legislators have for the most part refused to exercise appropriate oversight over the executive branch of government at the national level. Lets hope that this year's elections hold those elected officials who have been derelict in their duties accountable at the ballot boxes. And any Democrats who failed to act as a vigorous minority should also pay with their elected offices.
Reference: SusanG at DailyKos writes an excellent post today on this same subject.

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