Friday, June 16, 2006

Fantasy Land

Somehow, somewhere, politics became theater, a fantasy land where anything – even contradictions – can happen, and frequently do.

This is far from an original observation. That admitted, I will not burden the reader with historical attributions or quote the comedians, whose number undoubtedly is legion, who have used the same idea in their routines.

What brought this equivalency to mind was a snippet of news that Elvis Presley, despite dying in 1987, earned $52 million last year. Or more accurately, I suppose, his estate earned $52 million. The comedian might easily work this around into some old chestnut that warns against spending it all in one place – or use the King’s demise of long ago to turn the trite into something original about having no choice but to spend it all in one place.

So how do I get to politics? Well, I have been watching and listening, albeit still intermittently, to more of what Congress has been about these last few days. For what they have been about principally is spending taxpayer dollars. Most of the money is headed for the Department of Defense, particularly for Iraq and with lesser amounts for Afghanistan and the general “war on terror.”

Congress likes to think of itself as the world’s greatest deliberative body. But I think that June 15 must have been the highest (most extreme) collective low point in the tone and tenor and conduct of many members in both parties in both chambers. Much of the day (indeed the week) was conducted at the level of what – with apologies to Disney – used to be called “Mickey Mouse. ” But since the main topic was Iraq and spending, it was expensive Mickey Mouse.

As an example, both chambers passed amendments to the 2006 emergency supplemental appropriations bill that said the U.S. would not build permanent bases in Iraq. When the joint committee met to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the legislation, the conferees dropped the amendment – even though each House had approved it. But – and this gets to the contradictions– on June 15, when the House appropriations committee reported out the 2007 Defense appropriations bill, there was in essence the same language barring U.S. bases in Iraq. And word is that a “no permanent bases” amendment will be offered in the Senate when that body resumes deliberating the Defense authorization bill.

The House also set aside 11 hours – one extended day of the 97 legislative days in all of calendar 2006 – for what was advertised as a “debate” on Iraq. But when the Republican-drafted resolution that served as the vehicle for moving the discussion forward was introduced, the rules governing the proceedings prohibited Members from offering amendments and conflated the war in Iraq with the war on terror and the war in Afghanistan. Any hope that the U.S. public (and the Iraqi public) would benefit from the day’s discourse disappeared. There was neither discourse nor debate, only discord.

Back in the Senate, John Kerry finally agreed not to offer an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that called for the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by December 31, 2006, except for trainers and necessary support personal (and undoubtedly the Pentagon would want “force protection” assets). When it became known that Kerry would not offer his amendment, the Republicans quickly submitted their own amendment that was a carbon copy of what Kerry had been ready to propose. A parliamentary ploy to “table” (postpone indefinitely) the amendment was put forward followed by speakers for and against the motion giving their views – including references by the Republicans to the amendment being discussed s “the Kerry amendment.” The motion to table was agreed 93-6.

Another extreme low point

To be fair, perhaps not all elected legislators know that the meaning of “tabling a motion” in the U.S. is the opposite of its meaning in Britain?

Can Congress find another day among their 97 to get beyond slogans and do what ordinary Iraqis want and what one Iraqi vice-president told President Bush is most needed in Iraq: a timetable to end the occupation?

Probably not.

And Congress wonders why it rates so poorly in the polls.

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