Congressional Irresponsibility

Posted: Aug 05, 2008 12:53 PM
Congressional Irresponsibility

I spent the period from the late 1980s to 2000 teaching our form of government to the people of the Soviet Union. They were fascinated to hear of a system in which the government worked for the people and not the reverse. I wonder what these eager students of the American Republic think about what happened last week as Congress went home for five weeks without permitting any vote on exploration for oil and gas as people struggle to pay to cool their homes or to fill their gas tanks.

What a disgrace. The leadership in both parties repeatedly refused to permit up-or-down votes on energy-related matters. The situation was so bad that a group of about 50 Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to go home. With lights turned off and no microphone or camera permitted, this group shouted its opposition to adjournment without energy action and the refusal of the Speaker of the House to permit votes. I could no longer teach the principles of our democratic republic. Michelle Obama says for the first time in her adult life she is proud to be an American. Well, for the first time in my life I am ashamed to be an American.

But perhaps I will be able to be proud again. First, a group led by Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) continues the protest. A gimmick, yes, but sometimes gimmicks are needed to draw voters' attention. A poll last week revealed that 40% of Americans believe that Republicans are in control of Congress. Second, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives is coming up with a package of compromise legislation which will incorporate ideas from both sides. The bill will permit offshore drilling and will tap oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. Their plans are to present the compromise to the Leadership. If the Leadership will allow an up-or-down vote, fine; if not the Senators plan to force a vote. Very likely they will prevail. The House presents a greater problem. Members can sign a discharge petition and force an up-or-down vote. But Speaker Pelosi is very tough on discharge petitions. She threatens Members with loss of seniority or of committee assignments. An energy bill will be a tough sell for House Democrats afraid of losing their important positions. President George W. Bush, in refusing to call a special session of Congress, said he doubts his doing so would have any impact upon the Congress, but constituents may persuade them.

If many Democrats were to return to Washington after Labor Day to inform the Speaker that she should permit votes or she may lose her position maybe even she would have to yield.