<\body> Stories in America: Congress: No Work, All Play

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Congress: No Work, All Play

What has the Republican controlled Congress done this term? This is from the Center for American Progress. Visit the site for links to following:
When Congress adjourns for the November elections later this week, "it appears that just 2 of the 11 required spending bills will pass." The budget will not have been enacted, forcing Congress to pass a stopgap measure to keep the federal government open. The legislative branch has also stumbled in its efforts to pass much-debated bills on lobbying reform, immigration, offshore oil drilling, minimum wage, and the estate tax. "A popular package of business and education tax credits is teetering." Long-time congressional analysts Thomas Mann of Brookings and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently, "[E]ven those of us with strong stomachs are getting indigestion from the farcical end of the 109th Congress. .. With few accomplishments and an overloaded agenda, it is set to finish its tenure with the fewest number of days in session in our lifetimes, falling well below 100 days this year." Indeed, this Congress will recess having been in session fewer days than the "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948. A CBS News/New York Times poll finds 75 percent of voters can't name one thing Congress has accomplished. Only 25 percent said they approved of Congress's job performance. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) -- a member of the House leadership -- acknowledged, “We have not accomplished what we need to accomplish.” At the start of this month -- dubbed "Security September" -- the congressional leadership promised to deliver accomplishments that would be focused on national security. Instead, as a new Center for American Progress analysis underscores, Congress will depart Washington, D.C. leaving many critical national security matters unresolved:

FAILURE TO ADDRESS NSA WIRETAPPING: Due to "deepening rifts" among conservatives, Congress has been unable to pass legislation authorizing the National Security Agency's (NSA) domestic spying program. The program was ruled unconstitutional by a Federal District Court judge last month. Calling it a "vital piece of legislation," President Bush has called upon Congress to pass a bill authorizing the NSA program. Yet, the latest attempt at securing a compromise has been met with opposition by former FBI and CIA director William H. Webster, former FBI director William Sessions, and 12 other former national security officials who released a statement saying a Senate measure would return surveillance law to "murky waters."

FAILURE TO PASS DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION: Congressional leaders have been unable to come together to pass the defense authorization bill, allowing superfluous provisions, such as whether federal judges should be permitted to carry concealed weapons into their chambers, to stall its passage. Without an authorization bill, a range of problems that plague America's fighting force will go unresolved. The military is undoubtedly over-stretched; the Pentagon recently ordered 3,800 troops in Iraq to stay for another 46 days while also calling another unit into Iraq 30 days ahead of schedule. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, reported recently that "two-thirds of the brigade combat teams in our operating force are unready." The Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker withheld his 2008 budget plan from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to protest the insufficient funding the Army is receiving.

FAILURE TO PASS VETERANS FUNDING: Congress is failing to enact appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), forcing the agency to rely on a stopgap funding measure that provides funding at last year's level. The Government Accountability Office recently released a stinging assessment that the VA is $3 billion in debt since 2005 because the administration failed to properly account for the increasing costs of war. The Bush administration has underfunded the VA by $9 billion over the last six years, and the administration’s long-range budget from last year proposes a $10 billion reduction over the next five years.

FAILURE TO PROTECT CHEMICAL PLANTS: "Congress still has done nothing to protect Americans from a terrorist attack on chemical plants." Because the chemical industry -- a heavy contributor to political campaigns -- does not want to pay the cost of reasonable safety measures, the congressional leadership is behind closed doors preparing a bill that is a "near-complete cave-in to industry, and yet more proof that when it comes to a choice between homeland security and the desires of corporate America, the Republican leadership always goes with big business."

FAILURE TO ENACT INTELLIGENCE AUTHORIZATION: For the second consecutive year, Congress will fail to enact a law that is its principal tool for overseeing the intelligence community. Prior to 2005, this law had been enacted in each of the previous 25 years. In addition, several key recommendations from the bipartisan 9/11 Commission still have not been enacted by Congress. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently called upon Congress to act on these recommendations, stating, "If we do pass the 9/11 Commission recommendations, only then will we truly be honoring the memory of those who died. Only then will we truly be keeping our promise to their families that we will make America as safe as we can be."

FAILURE TO PASS ENERGY BILL: Nearly 10 months after the President declared that America was addicted to oil, congressional leaders are preparing to adjourn Congress without having taken concrete action to cure America of that addiction. Amid record high gas prices this summer, Congress refused to mandate increases in fuel economy or to consider new ways to create incentives for American automakers to reduce oil consumption. Provisions in the Energy and Water Appropriations law would fund research and development of new, cleaner burning, American-grown biofuels, but Congress is set to adjourn without taking action on it.

FAILURE TO ENACT COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM: Our immigration system is broken. Undocumented immigration is at an all time high. There are as many as 12 million people living in the shadows of our society. Yet, Congress has decided to throw taxpayer money away pursuing border enforcement-only proposals that have not and cannot work. The enforcement-alone approach has been tried and failed. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is now "savaging conservatives in his own party for what he calls 'knee-jerk' opposition -- 'emphasis on jerk' -- to the Bush administration's efforts to create a temporary guest-worker program and overhaul the nation's immigration system."


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