In April 1653, Oliver Cromwell admonished the Rump Parliament, “You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” Let’s set aside the context in which Cromwell spoke, and unite in shouting his words at our Horse’s Rump Congress. (And, please, let’s deal with one HRC at a time. Despite what Carville said in the Sunday Post, she ain’t gonna be president because America ain’t that stupid. I think.) If we balance the possible good against the probable bad the 109th Congress can do in its few remaining weeks, only one conclusion can be drawn: it is our duty to shove the boys and girls out the door.
To our heartfelt admonition, Congress will answer — with equal fervor — that they have so much to do and so little time to do it. Oh, piffle. They spend more time exacting harrumphs from each other — Bill Frist looks and sounds more like Mel Brooks’s Gov. LePetomaine every day — than in attempting anything important. Sure, it’s fun to spend a day bashing the New York Times or talking about protecting the institution of marriage and Old Glory by Constitutional amendment. But let’s be clear about what’s going on. None of these exercises is serious. They’re just producing campaign commercials on our nickel. And the claims of urgency for other matters are just as phony.
For all the political hype surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, there’s nothing in it that places time constraints on what comes next. In that opinion, and the preceding decision in Hamdi, the court confirmed that we can keep terrorist detainees behind the wire until the conflict is over. And — given the rate at which we’re prosecuting this war — that may be in 2525. The military tribunals are aimed to try and punish a very small number (less than a dozen of 450-odd detainees at Gitmo). So why rush into legislation a law reconstituting the military tribunals when so few are affected? Let’s take our time and do it right. Over the next three or four years.
But, you say, what about confirming all the judges the President has nominated? Well, sad to say, there are only three ready for a Senate floor vote: Boyle, Myers and Smith. Seven more — including Defense Department general counsel Jim Haynes — are being considered by Specter’s Judiciary Committee. Four of them were nominated in May of this year so we can’t say they’re being held up unreasonably, and to get them confirmed this year is a pipe dream. Haynes is caught — thanks to preening putz Lindsey Graham and a couple of others — in a maze he’ll never escape. Would it be great to get even the three floor votes? Sure. But don’t bet on it, even if Congress stays through its current October 6 adjournment date. McCain’s group still controls floor votes and confirmation of conservative judges is not one of its priorities.
Other presidential appointments — the confirmation of some is needed badly — will be done exactly that way. It might occur to Senate Republicans that more circus-like confirmation hearings and needlessly-delayed floor votes won’t invest them with public confidence. The only confirmation hearing that could possibly benefit them probably won’t happen. (Why haven’t we been told who will be the next Deputy Secretary of State? If the nominee were John Bolton, all the political stars would align. Teddy, Chuckie Schumer, Dirty Dick Durbin, Biden and Leaky Leahy would be entrapped into defending the UN against Bolton’s alleged predations and shouting about how he’d never get along with Fidel, Mahmoud and whatever remnants of the Chirac government pretend to govern France. The Dems’ televised performance could assure a Republican Senate for years to come. But politics of that grand style are uncharacteristic of President Bush.)
So what’s to keep Congress from adjourning, other than the opportunity to manufacture political points for November? Only things that should make us more eager, in the immortal words of many Brooklyn baseball fans, to “trow da bums out.”
Unless we do just that, the November election won’t occur without one more round of pork-barreling. What new record elevations of mountainous spending can they create? How many earmarks can they make in the months remaining? I shudder to think. The HRC is — purportedly — controlled by Republicans. But how many bridges to nowhere and post offices named after sitting senators do we really need?
What passes for leadership in the Senate is still trying to get the House to compromise on the illegal immigration issue. The longer Congress stays in session, the longer the press and the White House (who said they were eternal enemies?) will have to force a House collapse. A bad bill would be much worse than no bill at all. And a bad bill — given our president’s predilections — is just what we’ll get if they do anything this year. Better to start all over again next year.
We live in dangerous times. North Korea’s threat of nuclear war in response to an attack knocking out its Taepodong-2 missile being readied for test will stir all sorts of Congressional kerfuffling. But serious threats demand serious actions, not Congressional posturing. Should senators and congressmen try to look tough by making speeches, or should we instead leave it to serious people to deal with Kim and his puppet masters in Beijing? If you have to think about the answer to that question for more time than it took to read it, you should be working for the New York Times.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here to obtain a free chapter).
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