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Features

ArrowPayback Time
If Republicans lose Congress, don't assume things will change
Matt Taibbi

ArrowAre You Radioactive Football?
Why “dirty bomb hoax” is redundant
Hank Williams Jr.

ArrowMurrah Redux
9/11 Truth is a bald regurgitation of a silly tale we heard ten years ago
Matt Taibbi

Local BEAST

ArrowTom & Sally Take a Trip
Foley Shmoley! Reynolds has scandal all his own.
Allan Uthman

ArrowRepresentative Royale!

ArrowBeast Calling
We call Eliot Spitzer's campaign to see just what "on the first day everything changes" means.

Departments

ArrowThe Beast Page 3
Inoperable Sump Pump

ArrowKino Korner: Movies
The Prestige, The Departed, Employee of the Month, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Arrow[sic] - Letters
Chuckleside, Konspiracy Kops, Happy Clam Sends Mindless Bias, Kid Power and more

Payback Time
If Republicans lose Congress, don't assume things will change
Matt Taibbi

Late last week, toward the tail end of my research for the "Worst Congress Ever" story in the current Rolling Stone, New York congressman Charlie Rangel told me an interesting story.

Rangel recounted an incident in the House in which he went over to say hello to Florida Republican Clay Shaw, who had been ill. Although the two men had been longtime political antagonists, and had frequently ripped each other in public during hearings of the Ways and Means Committee (Shaw is the committee's second-ranking Republican, while Rangel is the ranking minority member), they had always maintained a friendly personal relationship. So when Rangel saw that Shaw was back at work, he went over to pay his respects.

"But then a funny thing happened," said Rangel. "When I got back to my seat, a young Democrat [congressman] leaned over to me, and he said, 'What was that all about?' Like there was something wrong with saying hello." Rangel sighed. "Even in our party, for the younger generation of congressmen, this is all they know. That's how bad things are."

Rangel was one of a number of people I talked to in Congress who spoke wistfully of an age long gone, when congressmen could cross party lines to socialize. But starting in the mid-to-late Nineties, things began to change. Among other things, the famed freshman class of 1994 was comprised to a large degree of young congressmen who ran against the institution of Congress in their campaigns, promising to shun "Washington politics" and spend more time in their home districts. A new strategy of ironclad party discipline ushered in by Newt Gingrich furthermore decreased opportunities for crossing the aisle on votes; the old days of horse-trading and committee compromises brokered over the weekend on the links of northern Virginia were replaced by party line votes and the three-day work week. Charles RangelA decade later, Congress was setting the record for fewest working days ever, and House freshmen don't even shake hands with the guys on the other side of the floor.

"We used to travel the world together," sighed Rangel. "Now we don't even come to Washington long enough to get to know each other."

There is no question that Congress has plunged to historic lows in the last six years, rolling up an impressively ugly record of corruption, failing to get much of anything accomplished in the way of major legislation, racking up an eight trillion dollar debt and provided the ultimate in matador-defense oversight for the most dangerously incompetent president in recent memory. But there's a big question about exactly how much of that is the fault of the Republican Party alone.

While the fall from grace happened on the Republicans' watch, the institution in general has seen a massive influx of campaign money and a radical change in the way its members do business since the beginning of the Gingrich years, with lobbyists actually writing the legislation in some cases and members of both parties routinely cramming bills chock full of earmarks and other favors. On the '04 election cycle, the Republican Party and its politicians collected an obscene $782 million in hard money contributions, but the Democrats weren't far behind, at $679 million. Those numbers dwarf the amounts seen the last time the Democrats controlled Congress -- the '93-'94 totals were $244 million and $133 million, respectively.

While congressional Democrats have undoubtedly indulged mightily in the earmark revolution, it's hard to find their fingerprints on the worst abuses of the past decade for the simple reason that the Republicans have done such an incredible job of dominating the legislative process. They have not been targets of corruption because Tom Delay and Co. have literally left them with nothing to sell.

"Seriously, one of the reasons you're not seeing Democrats getting indicted in corruption scandals is that we've been out of the loop," says Rangel, laughing but not joking.

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