The Inane Asylum™: A Trip Through the Halls of Congress
By Bernard Levy
Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:
This week’s coverage will be short, only because there is so much to report. No, you read it right; I’m just taking a page from the Book of Congress to emphasize a point. With so many important issues up in the air requiring intelligent, decisive action, Congress has opted to ignore almost every one of them with impunity and blatant transparency.
Let’s put those birds nesting in Congress in perspective: the base pay for all Congresspersons, from a rookie to a veteran, is $165,200 a year. Those holding special offices such as the House Speaker and the Minority and Majority Leaders make even more. Their benefits include health care and other perks too numerous to list. Legislators are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50 and have to serve at least five years to receive one. Can you see the reason now why they are more interested in getting reelected than doing the job for which they were elected?
The amount of a pension depends on how many years they have served, but in any event, a retirement annuity cannot exceed 80% of their final salary. However, they may earn more in retirement “pay” than their final salaries because their retirement payments include annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.
We’ve established what their compensation is; now, what should they do for it? They’re suppose to pass appropriate legislation; help their constituents; oversee various agencies of the federal government to ascertain that they’re functioning under law; perform their duties and functions in a responsible and appropriate manner; seriously consider the important issues of our times and timely and intelligently deal with them, whether by legislation or otherwise.
But, what have they done recently? Not much.
To poorly paraphrase a wonderful poet, “How do I not love our ineffective, corrupt-ridden Congress; let me count the ways.”
· They’ve concentrated much of their efforts in the past five plus months on such “important issues” as suicide, gay marriages, flag burning and one real pressing problem, immigration. They’ve also given mere lip service on such important issues as effectively dealing with their (Congress’) corrupt and unethical practices which has resulted in one resignation, one or more legislators electing not to seek reelection and staff members and associates either pleading guilty, being scrutinized under investigation or serving prison time.
I haven’t got the vaguest idea of what Congress has done regarding the issue of mining safety, which exploded on the front pages of mainstream media in early 2006 when major mine disasters caused by inappropriate coal company practices and ineffective governmental oversight came to light.
· We still do not have a comprehensive energy plan. I suppose they’re waiting for Vice-President Cheney to again confer in secret with energy company executives to strategize and finalize an appropriate plan. A comprehensive energy plan is essential to America, particularly in light of the tremendous pressures being felt on the world scene affecting oil production. By the way, doncha think that our dependency upon oil and its necessity in our growing economy are reasons enough for Congresspersons to sit at a table or two without party polarity, acrimony and self-serving interests and flush out a comprehensive policy? It’s one thing to treat Americans like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed “you know what” – but it’s quite another to establish an energy policy so that individuals and business can make reasonable future fuel decisions.
· Although it appears that many Republicans up for reelection are distancing themselves from President Bush and his policies in order to win primaries and reelections, they’ve done little to bring light to and combat the outlandish and blatant actions by President Bush to flaunt and subvert the laws passed by Congress by his publication of more than 750 Signing Statements. These state that President Bush will not enforce or abide by the very Congressional legislation that he, the president, signed into law. I can understand why a president would take such a position when he wants to exert a strong authoritarian, near totalitarian, stranglehold on the American public. The last time I read the Constitution, our government was divided into three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Has the legislative branch disappeared from the face of our government? Has anyone investigated recently to see if Congresspersons have cashed their checks?
Congress is suppose to legislate and, once the president signs that legislation into law, we are all duty-bound to uphold those laws, even the president. Does this mean that Jane and John Q. Public can also selectively ignore laws?
· The immigration issue is important because most of the illegal aliens on our hallowed shores lead honest and productive lives and contribute to the social and economic greatness of our country. Returning 10-12 million illegal aliens to their respective countries is out of the question. There has to be a viable answer. But, golly, I forgot; we’re talking about Congress, and their business is not doing business.
· Back in March of this year, the Senate rejected the idea that it should not discipline itself and defeated the creation of an independent office to investigate possible ethic violations. It defeated the idea of an Office of Public Integrity to tighten rules and laws regarding Congressional contact with lobbyists. I can understand their action. When you’re in the catbird seat and are unaccountable to anyone, including your constituents, why change the rules? Why even consider conducting yourself in an ethical manner? When you took your oath of office, you vowed to ethical and moral conduct; and, true to form, you’re upholding that grand incumbent tradition of determining your own ethics.
· In late July, Congress passed and President Bush signed a national internet database to inform law enforcement and communities where convicted sex offenders live and work. Without question, that should have been done many, many moons ago. But, score one for Congress; I suppose, late is better than never.
And, the beat goes on. Major issues, including affordable health care and prescription drugs, retirement security, the continuing presence of corporate power and corruption, and the ever-present issue of adequate homeland security, all need immediate attention and review. I haven’t even touched upon the importance of strengthening the infrastructure in this country; roads and bridge are decaying faster than I’m aging, which is pretty rapid.
I haven’t even discussed effective oversight on the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the corruption in government contracts.
I am, by nature, an optimist, but it’s becoming more difficult all the time. Please, oh please, God, deliver us from this Congress! It’s evident that Congress and other elected officials do not have the American public’s best interests in mind when they thumb their noses at the truly important issues to waste time considering a flag-burning amendment – how many flags have you seen burned recently? – while ignoring senior and disabled citizen health care issues– how many citizens do you know who need medicine they cannot afford?
Stay tuned for the upcoming elections and perhaps some real and meaningful legislation action from a possible new flock of legislative birds.