Our Senate, Our Shame

It is all so predictable, and yet still so infuriating.  Yesterday Senate Democrats unveiled a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through fiscal year 2011.  The bill numbers 1,924 pages.  It includes more than $8 billion in earmarks for some 6,000 pet projects for Senators.  According to the Washington Post report on the legislation, it includes the familiar litany of pork barrel projects — millions for non-profits associated with deceased politicians, hundreds of thousands of dollars to study port dredging and swine management, and on and on.

In this instance, the Senate has failed to pass individual appropriations bills, which is one of its most basic responsibilities.  So, Senate Democrats have followed their game plan from the appalling debacle of the “health care reform” legislation, have combined a dozen individual spending bills into one massive bill that no outsider has had a chance to read, and then have announced that the legislation has to be enacted by the end of the lame duck session or the government will shut down due to lack of funds.  Why not?  Process and public scrutiny be damned.  They are the Senate, after all, and they can do what they want.  They obviously believe that they don’t need to concern themselves with the unmistakable message in favor of fiscal restraint that the voters sent on Election Day, or the effect of this tawdry, trillion-dollar exercise in vote-trading on the United States and its staggering debt problems.

The Senate used to fancy itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”  Those days are long since past.  As led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the current Senate appears to be a motley collection of political hustlers who avoid the hard work of legislating in favor of cheap theatrics and gimmicks designed to increase their leverage for getting federal money for their cronies.  At bottom, they just want to get theirs, and this obscene omnibus budget maneuver gives them a shot at doing so.  They have the souls of pirates, rather than the souls of statesmen, and our beleaguered country is suffering mightily as a result.

Lame Ducks

On November 15 Congress will reconvene for a “lame duck” session to try to complete unfinished business before the end of the term.  This year, the lame duck session is especially lame, with dozens of Members of the House of Representatives and several Senators booted out by their disaffected constituents.  This article summarizes some of the issues confronting the lame duck Congress — and when you look at the list you begin to understand, perhaps, why voters were so frustrated.

For example, this Congress has not passed any spending bill to specifically authorize expenditures by the various agencies of the federal government.  In order to prevent a general government shutdown, they will need to enact some kind of omnibus, catch-all spending bill.  As we all know from the “stimulus” legislation and “health care reform” legislation passed earlier by this Congress, the bigger the bill, the more opportunity there is for Members of Congress to insert spending for pet projects or political cronies.  This Congress’ failure to deal with spending in the proper way, by debating specific bills in an orderly fashion and allowing opportunities for amendments, has helped to crystallize the sense of rampant corruption and backroom deal-cutting that, I think, contributed so mightily to the electorate’s “throw the bums out” mentality earlier this week.  Will the lame ducks be able to resist one last opportunity to insert a sweetheart deal in some unreviewed provision of a sprawling bill that undoubtedly will be rushed to the floor and considered without an opportunity for amendment?

Other issues also are looming.  Should the Bush-era tax cuts be extended, and if so, how?   Should the impending cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors be avoided or modified?  Should unemployment compensation benefits be extended again, and if so for how long?  Should a $250 check be sent to all Social Security recipients?  (The latter proposal, if adopted, will simply confirm the complete spending irresponsibility of this failed Congress.)  Or will the lame ducks decide to do as little as possible, and concentrate instead on a higher priority — finding out how to keep some kind of job in Washington before their terms expire?