Saturday, August 15, 2015

Congress - Amendments and Legislation Like Bags of Vipers

Framing the "Big Picture" of a Totally Sold Out Congress
We'd like something Baroque and extra gaudy with gold patina for the frame, please.
Yes, the economy is a basket case, but not for everyone.
It depends on "whom you know."

Most Americans are quite familiar with the "big picture" of what's happening in Congress. It would be hard to miss the relentless maneuvering of the oligarchs being orchestrated by their sold out, beholden Congressmen. Further, the actual numbers perfectly reinforce such a proposition.

When the rising tide sinks most ships.
The "Big Picture" [chart]

The chart [left] shows what a good job the Congress has been doing for the last four decades. Almost all "new wealth" being generated by the US economic growth has become "Income Growth" for the "extremely hard working" US oligarch class -- the top 10%. Of course these "hard working" oligarchs had to take and hold control of the US government during this process, and the manner in which they accomplished this was to finance and control the Congressional elections -- especially the "purse string holding" House of Representatives.

Back in the 1970's when this process began in earnest, the dynastic families "sized up" the political "opportunities of the moment" and concluded that, of the two choices, the Republican Party, already famous for its traditional, glaring "ethical weakness" and utterly willing to do absolutely anything for money and power, would be the least expensive option. By halfway through the Reagan years, this purchase had been fully consummated, and the Party's oligarchic masters were quite confidently receiving around 90% of everything they ordered. [Notice the radical change in the trend appearing in the chart's 1982-1990 data.]

It turns out that there is a specific Congressional "mechanism" which is the central tool used by the sold out Congress to, well, "deliver the goods." If anything were ever to be done about disabling this "central tool," a whole lot of our country's "Congress problem" might improve almost immediately. So far as being cognizant of the "big picture," most folks visiting this blog are already seeing this "image" as clear as a bell.

The process is hardly a mystery:

1. The billionaires decide they want something;
2. they communicate this "wish" to their Congressional
 lap dogs via their teams of lobbyists; and,
3. shortly, they get whatever they've ordered to be "delivered."

For most visitors to MeanMesa this is "yesterday's news." And, since this really is "yesterday's news," the topic of this post will move to one particular aspect of this larger problem -- one which constitutes a largely unexplored, yet quite adequately large, problem all on its own.

So, we need to focus of a particular part of this process. Exactly how do the billionaires get from "Step 2" to "Step 3?"

Generally, Congressional legislation is initially referred to the various committees for analysis and modification before it ever approaches its "day in court," that is, before it is ever actually considered by the entire House or Senate. During this committee debate, as many of the proposed bill's "controversial issues" are resolved as well as possible before its floor debate. The reason for this is simple enough. If the "deal breaking" issues in the proposal can be negotiated into something a majority might vote to pass, the embarrassment of hammering out such details "with the lights on" is avoided.

A tiny fraction of voters still actually monitors many of the Congressional floor debates and votes. On the other hand, special interest lobbying firms are literally glued to every word uttered and every detail in the legislation which might represent a benefit or liability to some corporation's future business prospects.

Additionally, these committee hearings theoretically offer a chance to research and explore the proposed bill's impact of other issues -- at least this is the basic idea. Of course, these committees are rife with phone calls from high powered lobbyists looking after the special interests involved, twisted and tangled "research" which absolutely proves all sorts of things, personal vendettas between the politicians involved and all manner of other arcane "rules" which just about guarantee that nothing particularly workable is ever constructed in the process.

Nonetheless, if you happen to consider the "routine work" of Congress as acceptable, you could say, right here, that "everything is going as planned" or that "everything is going as well as possible."

However, the difficulties emerge after the modified bill is passed by these committees. After that happens it is:
"Let the crazy begin!

All the House members and Senators now get to add absolutely anything they like to the version of the bill which passed out of the committee. When we are expecting, for example, Democratic House members to support some legislation and are then surprised when they won't, it is usually because the bill has had amendments added to it just before it comes for a vote from the entire House. The same thing happens in the Senate just as routinely.[This link offers a useful insight into "amendments made in sub-committees" and "amendments made in floor debates." Can-committees-amend-bills-on-their-own - GOVTRACK.US]

Paralyzing Majority Requirements and Other Poison Pills
Maintain the Oligarch's Strangle Hold on Total Control
If you don't see evidence of a representative democracy
 when you look at this, you need to try harder.

These are cases of the world's grandest "poison pills." The fact that the partisan addition of amendments has "killed" a bill's chances are often reported but usually only as an aside. This process is not an aside. The gravity of such frequent "bill killing amendments" can be seen in the manner it limits Congressional action.  Even the most "common sense" proposals go down in flames daily.

Every popular bill becomes subject to this style of Republican "hostage taking." It not only represents the means to obstruct any reasonable bit of legislation deemed politically popular, but it also offers Republicans an avenue to "install" legislative profit centers for their bosses which are totally unrelated to the matters the bill addresses -- installations which could never be accomplished legitimately in bills specifically directed at the same issues.

Currently, the atmosphere in the US Congress is one of suffocating paralysis. The commonly cited reason for this might seem reasonable enough, but this "explanation" lacks the depth required to actually explain it. The stasis which locks the "representative" bodies from being "free" enough to perform their dictated responsibilities did not occur by coincidence. Viewed in this framed, it is not the predictable product of staunchly held, opposing viewpoints.

It was carefully crafted and implemented quite patiently by those interests which consider inducing the total disgust of the electorate the highest priority. Only by this method can the voter turn out in elections be reduced sufficiently that the "mood" of majority demographics -- made much smaller by the scheme -- can be manipulated and exploited to permanently undermine the democracy.

One of the "sharpest tools" in the oligarchs' tool kit for controlling the Senate in this manner is the "filibuster-proof" majority required to report legislation from committee to floor debate. It is precisely into this "weak link" in the legislative process where the crippling amendments are injected. A crazy, utterly irrelevant amendment introduced into legislation at the last minute after the committee negotiations have already been hammered out is enough to "turn" just enough Senators' or House members' vote against it -- votes which would have, otherwise, been supporting it.

It is a matter of "leveraging" minority positions which could never be actualized as they stood into strange, vacuous successes of a sort -- not the type of "successes" which produce legislative victories, but instead, purely obstructive manipulations which prevent any legislation from moving to debate and create the now infamous, frustrating, legislative paralysis. It is, of course, the strategy of old women -- the toothless type who will connive endlessly to have their way rather than actually ever  propose, stand and fight for anything responsible.

In the case of the Senate, the "most toothless" old woman of all is, of course, Mitch McConnell, an utterly sold out political creature from another century who should have been turned out to a "not too pleasant" Kentucky goat corral long ago -- a particularly odorous corral with a unrelenting abundance of biting horse flies.

These "minority positions" which inspire one crop of amendment pestilence after another are sometimes directed at targets other than pure obstruction. For example the highway and transportation bill which has routinely provided funding for serious infrastructure maintenance saw its provision amended to provide only funds for a three month period at which time it will require a continuing vote -- and, at which time it will offer yet another opportunity for Senate Republicans to hold it hostage for political advantage.

[Should this same criminal gang ever control the entire government again, issues such as the infrastructure funding will be handled quite differently. Contracts will fly out of Capital Hill like bats at sundown, and the "destinations" for those billion dollar, "emergency, no bid" little trinkets will, coincidentally, precisely match the campaign contributors' logs locked away in those Senators' office desks. MeanMesa has posted about this: MeanMesa - GOPCons: Governing by Hostage Taking]

Naturally, this process is repeated for a myriad of tax payer financed purchases.

A Few Examples of Utterly Duplicitous,
Recent Republican Amendments
Just so long as these "gum up the works," 
they don't care whether they are ever actually adopted or not.

MeanMesa located a great Huffington Post article about amendments. Visitors to the blog can link that site: HuffingtonPost - Ridiculous Amendments. [Excerpted here.] Predictably, the "hot topics" which have drawn the most outrageous of these amendments are simply political targets which the right wing Senators must continually address to maintain the now perpetual "outrage levels" among their zombie-like base voters. Here are a few examples which will hopefully set the stage for MeanMesa's suggestion to permanently stop this practice.

Abortion Bills

Proposed By Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), this amendment serves as both a chance to provide a difficult "no" vote for Democrats as well as an opportunity to address continuing abortion financing concerns.

"To reduce the cost of providing federally funded prescription drugs by eliminating fraudulent payments and prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists and for drugs intended to induce abortion." (Amendment #3556)

Voter Suppression

Proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Republicans continue to attack a common target, the community activist group, ACORN, which is in the midst of disbanding. [The Senatorial righties once again passed this amendment to defund ACORN even though it was rendered defunct -- by their hand -- three years ago. Anyone smell think tank PR tactics? DailyKOS]

"Prohibiting use of funds to fund the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)." (Amendment #3554)

Health Care Repeal Bills

Proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Republicans are taking aim at Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, a member of President Obama's cabinet.

"To revoke the powers given the Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." (Amendment #3558) 

Hire One, Fire One
Proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla), this amendment follows the common argument that the health care bill seeks to stem the growth of government bureaucracy.

"To require that each new bureaucrat added to any department or agency of the Federal Government for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act be offset by a reduction of one existing bureaucrat at such department or agency."

No 'Government Takeover'
Proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the GOP turns one of their most often-used arguments -- that health care reform amounts to "socialism" and a catastrophic expansion of governmental control -- into a short, simply-worded amendment. [Yes, this is THE same David Vitter who hired prostitutes to spank him while he was wearing diapers. FOX News, 2007? Oh hell, why not?]

"To repeal the government takeover of health care." (Amendment #3553)

White House, Congress Needs To Take Its Own Medicine
Proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the amendment seeks to ensure that those who played a key role in writing the health care bill will have to purchase insurance through the exchanges set up by the bill.

"To make sure the President, Cabinet Members, all White House senior staff and Congressional Committee and Leadership staff are purchasing health insurance through the health insurance exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." (Amendment #3564)  

National Debt

End The Fiscal Responsibility 'Lecture'
Proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the GOP takes issue with what they see as a hypocritical line in the health care bill that sets aside taxpayer dollars to create a program encouraging fiscal responsibility.

"To repeal the new $375 million program directing the very same Federal Government that has amassed a $12 trillion debt to lecture Americans about financial responsibility."  

 Pulling the Plug on the Amendment Scam
We've already paid the full price at least more than twice.

Americans have already complained plenty about the damage these ridiculous amendments are inflicting as they repeatedly disrupt the "more normal" style of somewhat functional, traditional Congressional performance. [Public approval of Congress is 14% in the latest polls. Voters still remember what it was like when the thing actually functioned.

Please note that there is a significant difference between instances where the sentiment of the voting public is simply -- and arrogantly -- ignored as was the case when 89% of Americans were in favor of background checks, but the Congressional "heavies" gleefully ignored them while either pocketing their NRA checks or trembling in relief once the terrifying threat of a well financed primary challenger had been withdrawn -- or both.

The "amendment scam" can be described as much more oblique than such outrageous and highly visible, blatant disregard of constituency sentiments, and such efforts are always taken in hope that 1. a carefully groomed base will find such amendments quite palatable and incendiary, or, 2. that the amendment process itself is so opaque that voters will simply be left pondering "What in the hell just happened? Based on what we were hearing, this thing should have passed."

The pattern is a familiar one. A few hours or even a few minutes before the floor debate was to begin a small block of Senators -- a block just large enough to usher in one of these amendments -- poisoned the legislation which was to be considered. Most legislation at this stage has already been debated and negotiated "behind the scenes" into some form which promised to pass when the vote was called, but when this carefully designed "self-destruct" was installed via the amendment, all deals were off, and another frustrating episode of ruthless obstruction had occurred again.

All of this is possible because of the "rules" in place. Some of these "rules" are new additions enacted at the beginning of the Legislative session, and other are as old as the institution of Congress itself. Although the traditional "sanctity" of these "rules" is usually cited as the justification for continuing this failed process based on them, the real justification is firmly set in the continuing ambitions of the politicians who fecklessly employ them whenever there is a "prize" of some sort on the legislative table.

We need a few simple, new "rules," and they need to be permanent.

Nouns and Verbs to Name a Bill and Its Amendments
Three for four more adjectives or adverbs and a few articles would be okay,
but no more than, say, eight words in total.

While this may sound like a simple "fix," we have to remember that many of the legislators who would have to enact it could probably not identify either a noun or a verb if confronted with such a challenge -- especially not those hailing from the Confederacy. Nonetheless, impossible or not, this is something to be considered if we would like to repair the process.

The Name Game:

When a bill is proposed it must have a title. Currently, these titles read like short propaganda fictions with obviously strained collections of words perhaps selected in order for an acronym composed of each one's first letter spells something politically useful. An example of this is the actual title of the now infamous USA PATRIOT Act. The words comprising this acronym are: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001."

Given the actual, controversial issues of law contained in this example, one might think that it at least deserved some sort of rational title which accurately described the intentions and methods being legalized and authorized by the legislation. [While the more optimistic among us might prefer to think that this was something the millionaires in the Congress simply considered "cute," MeanMesa holds a far darker view. The Congressional elitists were already ridiculing the American citizens with this cynical monstrosity, and then to joke about it? Try to convince me that George W. Bush thought this up by himself...]

There are plenty of more examples: the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), the Help HAITI Act (Help Haitian Adoptees Immediately to Integrate), the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections), the HIRE Act ( Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment), the ASPIRE Act (America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education), and the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The acronym spells the name of Edward G. Robinson's character, Rico, in the 1931 gangster picture, "Little Caesar.")

The precise point here is not to ridicule these ridiculous legislative titles, but to look more closely at what kind of amendments tend to be added in hopes of beginning to appear sensible -- much less, momentarily politically palatable -- when the title of the bill itself is such a manipulated syntactical hodge podge. Remember, one of the most effective tools in the billionaires' scheme to manipulate Congressional votes is to order an amendment which serves their interests.

Cleaning Up Legislative Titles:

The PATRIOT Act could have -- much more honestly -- been named Authorization to Expand Domestic Anti-Terrorism Surveillance. This far more explicit title for the bill might have also encouraged the legislative authors to consolidate their proposal. Much of the difficulty originating in the 1,700 page act stems from its omnibus character. Everything necessary should have been done to break up the initial bill into more coherent, more specific, individual, smaller bills.

Amendments proposed for each of these smaller proposals would have had to be much more constructively directed at "something" specified in the bill. Further, an amendment to one of these more precisely directed smaller component bills would, of necessity, have to deal with the specific intent of that bill, and could require that the title of the entire bill constitute the preface in its actual wording.

This requirement would discourage, for example, Republican sequestration and non-military spending amendments proposed for the recent massive National Defense Authorization Bill. The Bill, itself, was purported to be about funding the US military, but after it has been twisted and torn under the onslaught of GOP amendments, it amounted to an hostage demand for all manner of Republican political agendas not related to the military at all.

These amendments were not all the mischief in the bill's final disastrous condition, but they were certainly players. This is a horrible way to politicize bills which both sides agree are urgently essential for the nation -- it is also a very reliable scheme to make them more and more expensive. The President threatened to VETO the NDAA because what was sent for his signature amounted to a demand that he validate the self-destructive Republican fiscal looting written into it.

Size Matters:

These bills are too large. And, they are, intentionally, quite conveniently sloppy. Amid the overly inclusive chaos in these large bills there resides an irresistibly tempting "garden of good and evil" where the worst faces in the Congress can insert practically anything their bosses order. [Please refer to the chart at the beginning of this post.] This scam is producing spectacular results for the billionaires who now officially own the Congress.

Legislators may reasonably fear the prospect of smaller, more specifically directed bills thanks to the political paralysis in the Congress, but we need to remember that this "paralysis" has been developed there for precisely this reason!


The conclusion is unavoidably clear. The men and women in the US Congress at this time not only suck at governing, they suck at legislating overall, they even suck at the most fundamental mechanics of legislating -- that is, they even suck at designing and writing legislation!


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