The Inane Asylum™: A Trip Through the Halls of Congress
By Bernard Levy
Let’s consider Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:
Since the examples of Congress’s machinations, shenanigans, corruption, malfeasance, nonfeasance and misfeasance are so plentiful and bottomless, I settled upon a fact-filled, fictional humorous literary style. My files are overflowing with congressional excuses, delays, misinformation, incompetence, failures to act, actions that are clearly politically-motivated and special-interest focused. A much greater American than I ever hope to be, Will Rogers, would have a grand old time with our current Congress; he had a pretty good run at Congress in his day. Enjoy your trip through The Inane AsylumÔ.
Legislatures are like animals in a zoo.
You can’t do anything about ‘em.
All you can do is just stand and watch ‘em.
With a few hours to spare while visiting Washington D.C., I meandered over to the Halls of Congress. After clearing security, I observed a crowd gathering around a speaker. As I got closer, I noticed that his appearance remarkably resembled a circus midway hawker with his wide-striped suit, exaggerated bow tie and colorful high hat as he barked through a megaphone.
“Right this way, ladies and gentlemen. Please don’t stray from the group. It’s a dangerous place out there, you know. Be on the look-out for the feared, snapping congressional bufferon and the fluff-feathered, cash-encrusted hornswaggle. The tour is ready to begin. Gather ‘round as I take you through these hallowed and compromised Halls.”
Curiosity grabbed me, and I joined the group. Our tour leader, aptly named Henry Hawker, moved us along, all the while waving to passersby and influentials alike and pointing out many of the people behind the scenes responsible for some of Congress’s memorable and forgettable moments and accomplishments.
“Over on your left is the desk of ‘Complicated Carl.’ There he is. Hi, Carl. One of his recent achievements is the Medicare bill that provided all those wonderful alternatives to prescription pricing. He rationalized that our senior citizens needed the opportunity to exercise their gray matter and the bill’s complications would help to ensure that Medicare recipients took an active role in choosing a plan. On a sad note, his great aunt Matilda became so upset with the choices offered that she suffered a stroke and died. Well, that’s the luck of the draw.
“On your right is our famous Pork Barrel Pete. I’d wave to Pete right now, but he’s busy working on some important legislation that will offer great benefits to the constituents of several congresspersons. His favorite Pork Barrel people are Senators Ted Stephens of Alaska and Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania. In fact, in December when Congress passed a defense bill excluding Arctic oil drilling, Senator Stephens was depressed for hours. It appears the House recently voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Many of us know the Arctic Wild Refuge future production will be just a drop in the barrel-heh, heh-no pun intended. Heck, we can get better results by increasing vehicle standards for miles per gallon, but ’ol Pete has a job to do, and he’s giving it his all.
“On the right, again, is one of our women-behind-the-scenes; we call her Bubbling Bea. She’s a great old gal and we love her dearly. You may not know this, but she was responsible for the proposed $100 taxpayer rebate to pacify the public for increasing the gasoline costs. House Leader Bill Frist thought this was a great coup and patted Bea on the back. He later apologized for inappropriate touching but, as you know, this $100 deal went over like a leaded balloon. The public isn’t impressed with tokenism anymore. I’m sorry to see that go.
“On your left is the wonderful ‘Looking-the-other-way Louie.’ He’s the guy who makes sure that oversight committees get information late and incomplete. He single-handedly has engineered some of the greatest faux pas of our times, including the Dubai Port fiasco. It seems that an elite few on Capitol Hill knew something about the deal before it was exposed to the public, but they ignored the information since they believe President Bush is always right. Someone tried to credit Louie for the lack of oversight regarding the NSA wiretapping, but Louie would have none of that. That wasn’t his doing. He’s a ‘responsible’ Washington bureaucrat, basically dishonest, but he does have his ethics, selective as they are. By the way, Louie is a heck of a poker player; his bluffs are legendary.
“Moving right along, see that very modern-looking desk on your right? You’ll notice the person wearing a mask. I don’t even know his or her name. That person has been nick-named the ‘Anti-Robin Hood;’ his or her main goal in this administration is to rob from the poor and give to the rich. It’s rumored that A.R.H. single-handedly promoted reducing Medicare benefits to this nation’s poorest children and fought tooth and nail to defeat any increase in the federal minimum wage. You may not know this little-known fact but, since 1997, Congress has voted eight pay raises for itself and not one dime for workers making the minimum wage. In fact, the annual salary for members of Congress has gone up $31,600 during that time, while a minimum-wage employee working full-time only earns $10,712 per year. That’s pretty good for Congress, doncha think? Also, our masked person teamed up with the desk right next to him, occupied by ‘Spending Siegfried,’ to pass the most recent spending and tax-reduction bills. I have been informed their combined motto has been approved by President Bush and the GOP - ‘the heck with our budget and trade deficits, full-spending torpedoes ahead.’ And to accomplish this and hopefully increase the federal deficit, which they view as good for America, are the tax reduction provisions that most agree are vigorously slanted in favor of the wealthy. To accomplish this, the Senate just recently passed a $70 billion tax-cut bill.
Mr. Hawker looked at his watch and exclaimed, “Golly, we’re running way behind, and I must cover corruption and immigration,” and he hurried us down the corridor.
“There’s ‘Corruptible Clifton’ right now. See him waving at us? Such a nice wave. This Jack Abramoff mess shook up Congress. (Audible giggles in the crowd.) No, that’s true, really. Alright, I’ll level with you; most congresspersons were upset for about eighteen minutes, but that’s a record. Former Republican power representative Tom DeLay resigned from office, and some of his former employees are in serious legal trouble. The ongoing investigation will probably nab more senators and representatives, too. The public and opinion polls have called for greater ethics reform, particularly regarding lobbyist activism. However, good old Clifton has done his best to water-down all ethics measures. In fact, perks such as lobbyist-financed trips, paid meals, and low-cost flights on corporate jets have been significantly untouched by the House bill recently passed by a 217-213 vote. The Senate’s GOP new man on ethics, Rick Santorum, probably stretched his own ethics by receiving benefits from his PAC for personal expenditures. By the look of the Gucci travel bags next to Clifton’s desk, Cliff’s probably scheduled to take another lobbyist-paid junket to places unspecified.
“We only have three minutes left. We’ll skip the next three desks, and I’ll comment on the desk over there. That’s Ineffective Isaac’s desk. He’s responsible for helping legislators craft bills that are doomed to failure or partial failure, such as the ones currently being crafted on immigration. As you know, this is one of the big topics in our nation today. Many Republicans are upset with the fact that some legislation is geared to providing citizenship to the ten or twelve million illegal immigrants in the country today if they pass certain requirements, such as adopting English as their primary language, paying a fee and taxes. Of course, the big stumbling block is actually a wall to be erected along the US-Mexican border. Isaac is having a field day with this because there are so many areas in which nobody can be pleased, and everybody can be confused. Legislators from both houses’ sides of the aisle are not accurately portraying the advantages and disadvantages of a wall. Some argue that the Great Wall of China did its job. Others argue that the Berlin Wall was never effective because you can’t build a barrier around philosophies and beliefs. In any event, everything is up for grabs here. Isaac confided to me that he can’t understand what the Republicans’ gripe is with giving citizenship to the illegal workers since the majority of the people who hire them are Republican businesspersons. Maybe, we’re back to that minimum wage thing.
“Well, that’s it ladies and gentlemen. Yes, I know, I didn’t cover the lack of mine safety concern and oversight, the great reduction of veteran benefits due to budget cuts and the FBI’s raid of Representative Jefferson’s offices. Incidentally, both parties are irate about the raid. Frankly, that has me stumped. You would think the Republicans would be happy that a Democrat, for once, is going to be prosecuted for corruption. However, Republicans are even more opposed than Democrats to the executive branch’s FBI searching congresspersons’ offices. It probably is a violation of constitutional rights but, in this day and age, what else is new? I can see that Congress would be upset because records and computer files may contain issues of national policy the FBI should not see. Can you really trust the FBI with matters of national security? Also, there is the question of checks and balances of the two branches of government. If you ask me, and I never said this, it seems to me congresspersons may have some personal data on those computers they don’t want their spouses to know about. That may be the hidden meaning in all of this.
Thanks again for allowing me to take you on this tour. I wish I could stay and answer your questions, but I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.”
And with that, he was off like a flash, leaving us bewildered, but full of information.
Wow! If I ever get back to Washington D.C., I’m going to take the Hawker’s tour again. He did a fantastic job! Who says that Congress has depth? It’s got to be one of the most absurd, pointless, silly institutions of all times. And to top that, it actually is a three-ring circus, featuring elephants, donkeys and a vast array of creatures more suited to appear in Barnum and Bailey’s side shows… if the pay and perks were sufficient, like the top-notch free medical coverage and great retirement benefits that congresspersons receive.
The United States Senate
opens with a prayer
and closes with an investigation.