November 23, 2004

More Stupid Republican Tricks

Today's Musical Selection: "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett

Hey there, everybody! My post on the Republicans' dirty DeLay dealings has stirred up some excitement (and even, for one loyal reader, a fleeting moment of fame). Tomorrow I'll take another comment tour and look at some of the thoughtful things you guys have been saying. Today, though, I want to check back in on our GOP friends in Congress.

Some of you, having read of the DeLay debacle, have undoubtedly wondered, "What could they possibly do for an encore?" What level of chutzpah would be required to surpass the DeLay business? If you thought they couldn't top themselves, however, you underestimate the resourcefulness of the Republican Party. Where a lesser party might be content to sit back and rest on its laurels after crookedly protecting one of its own, the Republicans work overtime to think of new and different ways to make a mockery of good government.

Item #1: (hat tip to Bill McCabe at Leaning Toward the Dark Side for catching this one):

A $388 billion government-wide spending bill, passed by Congress on Saturday, was stranded on Capitol Hill yesterday, its trip to the White House on hold as embarrassed Republicans prepared to repeal a provision that could give the Appropriations committees the right to examine the tax returns of Americans.

Top GOP lawmakers disavowed the provision, expressed surprise that it was in the bill, and blamed both the Internal Revenue Service and congressional staffs for incorporating it into the omnibus spending package funding domestic departments in 2005.

(The full and ugly details here.)

Got that? A major government spending bill, already passed by Congress and everything, and the Republicans have to hold it up because someone inserted a provision that would allow Congress members to read everyone's tax returns. And no one has the slightest idea how this Orwellian provision got in there anyhow.

Now, a brief disclaimer: Congressional bills, especially spending bills, are unbelievably long and ponderous and no sane human being can finish them without the benefit of enough stimulants to keep the population of New Jersey awake for a week. It's easy to imagine a Congressman voting on this bill without realizing this was in there. However, this stunt highlights the rather ugly nature of this particular spending bill.

See, House and Senate Republicans were unable to draw up a budget blueprint because of a disagreement on domestic spending. (Senate Republicans want it, House Republicans don't.) Because of this, they were unable to produce spending agreements on large chunks of the budget. Since the current session is fast running out and we need to have a budget before everyone goes home, they crammed all the remaining spending bills into one big omnibus bill, subject to a straight up-or-down vote, with no amendments allowed.

News of this bill caused several Congressional ears to perk up. These Congressmen (Republicans, since the majority party controls the writing of the bill) said to themselves, Hey, as long as we're rushing this giant bill to the floor that can't be amended, why don't I throw in a little something for me? The results speak for themselves:

Along with those [spending] measures, lawmakers and staffs added thousands of local projects benefiting home states and districts. Also included in the final bill was a major provision barring states from enforcing laws that require health care providers, hospitals, HMOs or insurers to pay for, provide or give referrals for abortion...

GOP leaders also deleted provisions on overtime regulations and the outsourcing of government jobs despite support in both houses.

By burying these unrelated measures in the test of a gargantuan bill that needs to be passed in a hurry, these measures stood a much better chance of passing than if, say, members of Congress were aware that those provisions were in there. (The bill came to the floor so fast that the esteemed Senators and Representatives barely had time to figure out what the bill was about, much less what was actually in it.)

Apparently, the provision about reading the tax returns was slipped in on this philosophy by... someone. Republican Congressional leaders swear up and down they don't know how it got in there.

An awful lot of fingers, however, are starting to point at Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma. This should come as no surprise to loyal readers of this blog. You may remember that last year, I vented my spleen over a stunt by Istook. That time, he tried to cut Congressional funding for Washington's Metro system because the system carried an ad by a pro-marijuana group, which offended Istook's delicate sensibilities. Now, Istook claims the tax-return provision was inserted without his knowledge, but based on the Metro episode the Congressman has already established himself as not the world's biggest fan of the Constitution. Suffice to say, the tax thing sure sounds like him. People of Oklahoma: What are you thinking? I mean, I know that sending Istook to Washington means you don't have to deal with him, but really, you should have the common decency to keep your mental patients in your own state, rather than putting them in positions where they can screw up the entire country.

Item #2: Let me ask you something, friends. Is there any good ending to an article this begins like this?

Republican budget writers say they may have found a way to cut the federal deficit even if they borrow hundreds of billions more to overhaul the Social Security system: Don't count all that new borrowing.

I'll pause a minute so that you can all go throw up. Particularly those of you who are trying desperately to believe that the Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility.

Here's the deal: As you may have heard, the Republicans want to save Social Security by at least partially privatizing it. This is a debatable idea, but that's not the point here. The point is that achieving the conversion will require a fairly significant amount of spending, and you may have notice that the budget deficit is already running at record levels. Faced with reconciling these inconvenient facts, and in lieu of committing actual bold acts of leadership, the Republicans instead plan to wave their magic wand and make the spending go away by declaring it "off-budget." Poof! This takes the concept of "voodoo economics" to a whole new plane.

Attempting to defend the indefensible, incoming Senate budget chairman Judd Gregg took this tack:

"You cannot look at Social Security in the context of a five-year budget," the window that current White House and congressional spending plans cover, Gregg said. "To do so is naive and foolish. . . . If this is simply scored as a five-year exercise, we're never going to solve the problem."

The sentiment is almost admirable... Social Security is a problem requiring long-term thinking, rather than being buffeted by the political winds of the yearly budget process. This part I agree with. Jumping to the conclusion that ignoring the spending is the way to go, however, requires a Grand-Canyon-sized leap of logic.

See, here's the problem for Republicans: If the cost of Social Security reform is factored into the budget deficit, the deficit will swell to the point that even the average voter will notice. This might force Congress to take drastic measures like -- ssshhhhhh! -- raising taxes. And this the Republicans simply cannot consider, because for over a decade they've made much hay selling the idea that taxes are the devil.

Now, let's imagine for a moment that I decided to balance my own budget by declaring my rent to be an "off-budget item." Suddenly, I'll be running a significant surplus, one that I might decide to spend on, say, beer. If I do this, I will soon myself with a refrigerator full of Sam Adams and no apartment to store it in. Unless the Republicans have a date with BallWonk's Magic Money Elves, they're still going to have to find a way to get the money they'll be spending. Declaring it "off-budget" doesn't mean we'll never have to pay it back.

Please tell me that this is all a big joke by the Republicans. Tell me this is all some kind of post-victory humor that I don't quite understand, and that once they get this out of their systems they'll get back to actual responsible governing. I'm trying, trying, trying to get down with this whole "bipartisan cooperation" idea, but damned if the Republicans aren't making it hard.

Congratulations are in order for BallWonk and the Grays, who prevailed in the Great Name Debate of 2004 by a 53-47 margin. Of course, the debate became essentially moot once MLB gave us the Nationals name, but BallWonk deserves credit for making a strong and convincing case. Thanks to everyone who voted. Now is the time for all of us to come together behind our new name. We're all Nationals now. God save our team.

In keeping with the new regime, I managed to get my hands on some of the first shipment of new Nationals gear. I am now the proud over of a navy relaxed-fit cap and a navy Nationals T-shirt. For once in my life, I'm grateful to have worked at a sporting-goods store; last night, I went over to Modell's and enlisted an old friend who still works there to save me a cap and a couple shirts (one for me and one for Papa Shaft) on the incoming shipment. And given the reports that our merchandise is already commanding huge markups around town, I'm doubly grateful for my connection: I was assured both of a guaranteed supply of merchandise and a reasonable price for it. Major props to my main man Nick for setting me up. He deserves a salary several times what he's making now.

The merchandise looks excellent, and I'm definitely proud to be sporting my new team's apparel. I wore it a bit around town tonight, and it garnered some appreciative glances and comments. It's all starting to come together, fans!

That's all for today. Comment tour tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at November 23, 2004 11:05 PM

I'm thinking that the Republic party members that think about the budget must figure there is no magic money machine, but there is the next best thing, the Chinese government.

If you had a bank (or say, a parent) that would always loan you money would you ever need to balance your budget?

Nope. And for quite awhile now the Chinese have been willing to loan us all we need. Probably to keep their trade surplus to us going. Can this last forever?

I hope that when it ends we can pull an Iraq and get most of our debt forgiven. Otherwise we will be hurting.

Posted by: Tripp at November 24, 2004 03:31 PM
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