| The Whining Minority
continued - page 2
Now this guy is standing up in congress and blasting the Democrats for exactly the same thing. "Yeah, it's kind of like one of those prison converts to Jesus," a guy I know in Congress said. "You just don't know how to take it."
Just to be clear on the numbers; so far, the Democrats have allowed one open rule and three semi-open rules. There is a sort of rule that is open to all amendments printed in the congressional record, and this essentially is a time issue -- if you submit it in time, it's allowed. The Republicans in the last two years allowed two of these semi-open rules. So basically in a few months, the Democrats have been about as open as the Republicans were, in total, the last few years.
Nobody is suggesting the Democrats should get a medal for their newfound commitment to openness. Among other things, Senator Harry Reid, who pledged to end late-night shenanigans of the sort that made Dreier and Diaz-Balart famous, inserted a late-night provision into a budget bill last December that transferred a piece of Nevada federal land the size of Rhode Island to state and private interests. That's Reid; the Rules committee, however, seems to have cleaned up its act on that score, not having any late-night sessions yet.
But the most amazing thing about this Rules debate wasn't Diaz-Balart's outburst about closed rules. It was the specific reason for the outburst. In this particular instance, the Republicans -- specifically Georgia congressman Tom Price -- were pissed that the Democrats had rejected an amendment to apply pay-as-you-go rules (more on that in a second) to the Gulf Recovery bill. When Price took the floor, he first made sure to praise the filthy hypocrite Diaz-Balart for his courageous stand on behalf of the principle of the open rule.
"I thank my good friend for his passion and openness and honesty," he said.
Then he moved on to criticize the Democrats' clampdown on amendments.
"What we are living in," he said, "is becoming a land of Orwellian democracy!"
I'm not sure what "Orwellian democracy" is, but whatever. What was striking was the basis for his objection. In layman's terms, the pay-go rule is basically a mechanism that forces any drain on the treasury to be offset by corresponding spending cuts. Pay-Go was first instituted in 1990 and was followed diligently until the late 1990s, when budget surpluses replaced deficits and exceptions began to be made to accommodate deficit spending. Pay-go was allowed to formally lapse in 2002, when Republicans were forced to do away with it because the Bush tax cuts would have forced the Republican congress, which ultimately increased spending to a massive degree, to make sweeping cuts. Pay-go, being as it was a mechanism that automatically enforced fiscal discipline, was an early casualty of the Bush era. It was almost revived in the Senate in 2006, but again, Republicans killed the effort.
Pay-go was reinstated this year in the House, not as law -- Democrats couldn't have passed it as law, because Bush would have vetoed it -- but as part of the House rules package. This is somewhat difficult to explain, but basically the House (unlike the Senate) passes a new Rules package every year, and in that package can write in various procedures that are not subject to presidential veto. They did so this year with Pay-Go, which passed in a landslide, 280-154. Among those who voted against Pay-Go in the House rules package, however, was Tom Price, the same dickhead bitching about living in an Orwellian state over spending for Katrina recovery.
Here's the deal with Pay-Go. It is designed to apply to permanent expenditures only -- traditionally, the programs that are usually called entitlements. That means Medicare, student loans, etc. Basically, Pay-Go was designed as a way to cap spending on welfare; if you want to raise expenditures for this entitlement, you have to make a corresponding cut somewhere else. It does not apply to emergency expenditures or what is called discretionary spending, i.e. spending that is made on a year-to-year basis, in response to temporary problems.
Republicans like Price can't vote for Pay-Go as a general principle because that would mean they would have to somehow pay for the Bush tax cuts. They also can't ask to expand Pay-Go to emergency expenditures as a general rule, because that would mean they would have to pay for the Iraq and Afghan wars, which are still being paid for almost entirely out of emergency appropriations -- despite the fact that they are no longer unanticipated emergencies in the traditional sense.
So what do they do? They're left to stamp their feet and cry Orwell when the Democrats pass a relatively small appropriation for housing for hurricane victims. In other words, there's no Tom Price to be found screaming for fiscal responsibility when a $90 billion Iraq appropriation is passed, but when $1.175 billion goes to the Gulf Coast, he and the likes of Diaz-Balart start singing "We Shall Overcome."
I'm no big fan of the Democratic party. I think they pussyfoot about key issues like the war and they whore for their campaign donors almost as much as the Republicans. And their ethics and procedural reform to date isn't something to write home about. Even Barney Frank conceded on the House floor: "[Diaz-Balart] is right about one thing. He chides us for setting the bar too low. We only promised to do better than they did, and we met that standard with ease. But we should do better."
But Jesus, at least they have some shame. The Republicans ran congress like a basement cockfighting ring for more than a decade, and two months or so after they're out of power, they're already transformed into a bunch of squawking dissidents more pretentious than Rage Against the Machine. And they know how absurd it is, too. When I called Diaz-Balart's office, and asked his press aide, Victoria Martinez, how her boss could possibly complain about a lack of open rules considering his record, there was a pause on the other end of the line.
"Uh huh," she said. "I'll get back to you."
Click. Should I hold my breath while I wait?
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