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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Surreal Life: Starring the Legislature

According to the meaning of the word surreal is

Having an oddly dreamlike quality.

The way I understand the word surreal is when you are witnessing something and it is so unbelievable that it just doesn't seem real. As I have witnessed this Congress for the last seven years, it all seems surreal. Whether they bury good sensible bills on committee or rush out to pass corrupt bills, it as though they are trying to make things worse and the whole thing is surreal.

I first started following the SAVE Act back last fall. At the time, it appeared to be a bill on the fast track to being law. After all, it was sponsored by Heath Shuler, a Democrat, supported by an eclectic and bi partisan group of politicians, activists and special interest groups. The SAVE Act is an enforcement only anti illegal immigration bill. It was an enforcement only bill and its focus was a verification system that all employers would eventually be able to use to verify the legal status of their employees. As we all saw last summer, the folks overwhelmingly want to enforce the border and this bill would go a long way toward that. Yet, after some fanfare and all sorts of political support, the bill is languishing in committee. The Speaker refuses to vote on the bill because Ms. Pelosi insists on adding some sort of amnesty to the bill. Of course, an amnesty provision would ruin a bill meant strictly to enforce the borders. The bill continues to need about thirty more signatures on something known as a discharge petition to force it to the floor. I suppose the bill made so much sense that it made too much sense to simply pass through our Legislature. (even though it would be supported by the overwhelming majority of the public)

The Broadcast Freedom Act would banish the Fairness Doctrine once and for all. The Fairness Doctrine would mandate that on any "controversial" topic there would be a mandated equal time for both sides of the issue. The Fairness Doctrine was abolished during the Reagan administration and not surprisingly Rush Limbaugh started a revolution on talk radio that has made that media a force it never was before. While Rush Limbaugh has lead an army of Conservative voices on radio, liberals have mostly failed on that medium like a lead zeppelin, as exemplified by Air America (short of Alan Colmes). The Fairness Doctrine is nothing more than an end run around the 1st amendment. By forcing radio stations so called "equal time" they will in reality simply be removing most voices from the media. The banishment of the Fairness Doctrine is an example of what happens when the free market is allowed to flourish and government stays out of the way. Had Reagan not been such an effective President his decision to remove the Fairness Doctrine would have been a bigger part of his legacy. The Broadcast Freedom Act is also languishing in committee. Its sponsor, Mike Pence, is also attempting to generate a discharge petition and is still twenty signatures short.

Meanwhile, the signature piece of legislation of this Congress in both 2007 and 2008 was their so called landmark Energy Bill. This bill was so full of mandates and subsidies for ethanol that farmers haven't been planting much of anything but corn to use for fuel. Never mind that most experts said that best case scenario ethanol would only fuel 15-20% of our vehicles, our legislators wanted to make sure that ethanol was given its due. I'm sure it is only coincidental that corn is found in plethora in the state of Iowa, the first to vote in the primaries. Whatever the reason, the only effect of this so called Energy Bill was its contribution to the explosion in food prices. Since farmers grew nothing but corn to go into cars, there wasn't anything left over for other crops. Then, supply and demand took over and food prices shot up.

Just so no one thinks this is some partisan hit job, let's remember that the incompetent Democratic lead Congress is only in power because the Republican lead Congress was equally as corrupt and incompetent. They came to power under the principle of fiscal discipline and yet each and every bill was so full of pork that their spending gave drunken sailors a bad name. Their excessive spending was epitomized by the Farm Bill and the so called bridge to nowhere, an earmark sponsored by Ted Stevens to build a bridge in Alaska. We learned only recently that among the many earmarks and pet projects in the farm bill was a special project for Speaker Hastert's district that wound up making the former Speaker quite the pretty penny. The Republicans were thrown out largely because they represented folks that valued fiscal responsibility. Yet, it appears no lessons were learned because these same Republicans mostly went along with another Farm Bill passed just last month full of nearly as much pork.

Of course, nothing has been as surreal as watching the Congress, on both sides, trying to fall over themselves to pass legislation in response the mortgage crisis. It all started with H.R. 3915. This was a punitive bill and its only effect would have been killing the mortgage broker industry. While that failed to get passed, what happened next was proposal after proposal that for larger and larger bailouts of troubled borrowers. The proposals started at one billion, then ten billion, thirty billion, and now the Dodd/Frank bill which is a mega $300 billion bailout. While this bill was sold as a bailout for struggling borrowers, the nefarious nature of the bill is that it will also bail out struggling banks holding onto mortgages for these so called struggling borrowers. The two main recepients of this bill will be Countrywide and Bank of America.

Nothing has been as surreal as watching the progression of the corrupt Dodd/Frank bill come to the edge of being law. In the last two weeks we have found out that Chris Dodd, its main sponsor, has received favorable treatment from Countrywide, received about $1000 a week for the last 18 months from Bank of America, and of course Bank of America was allowed to write major parts of the bill. The last piece of information was never meant for the public as it came from "proprietary" documents from the Congress. Now, given the obscene corruption going on behind this bill, one would think that legislators would be jumping over themselves to be the first to bring the corruption to light. Not these legislators. In fact, the bill overcame a filibuster attempt 83-9 with a majority of Republicans voting with EVERY SINGLE Democrat to move this bill toward a final vote. Even though we know that its chief sponsor has been totally and completely corrupted, the bill will likely not only pass but overwhelmingly.

According to the Hill, the bill's passage has earned a reprieve for now.

The Senate hit impasses over legislation aimed at helping struggling homeowners and a rewrite of spying laws, forcing Democratic leaders to push back consideration of those measures until next month.


On the housing legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said an amendment squabble pressed by Republicans this week was too difficult to overcome in the time lawmakers have left before the break.


Reid suggested Wednesday night that the housing bill could be delayed, but finally slammed the door on the possibility Thursday morning. Reid also said that when the Senate returns, he still will not allow Republican amendments that did not pertain to housing issues.

"There will be no amendments other than housing-related amendments," he said.

Neither Reid himself, nor the story, mentioned that this bill has been corrupted. It is as though it never happened, and the only problems with it are procedural. So while perfectly reasonable bills like the SAVE Act and the Broadcast Freedom Act languish in committee, the corrupt monstrocity known as Dodd/Frank is on the brink of being law. Its a pattern over the last eight years at least, and it is like the Congress is trying to pass bad bills and force good bills to languish. Like I said, the whole thing is surreal.

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