Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Alternate View Of Foley's Resignation

As the dubious scandal of a Representative making untoward sexually explicit messages to Congressional pages unfolds, it is important to be aware of the larger story that this episode represents. As an institution, Congress has apparently lost its way when it comes to representing citizens who placed them there in the first place.

Representative Mark Foley of the 16th district in Florida was found to be sending rather personal emails (described in the popular media as "overly-friendly") to at least one teenage Congressional page in 2005 though further disclosures are still coming to light of inappropriate contacts. As these actions came to light, there was little that Rep. Foley could do but resign his seat.

Most likely in two months time there will be little news on the front pages that refer directly to Rep. Foley, but there still will be a House and Senate leadership that continues to deteriorate.

This debacle is but a microcosm of how Congress has been operating over the past ten years under mostly Republican control. The notion that the House leadership chose to hide this speaks greatly to the power which they wield in a rambunctious and short-sighted manner. While the country can and has operated rather normally in the past with a single party in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, this 109th Congress and those directly preceding it have made business a form of strict party exercise.

Extending a normal 15 minute vote for three plus hours, passing major legislation with little or no debate on measures tacked on at the last minute, and ethical shortfalls of staggering proportions are forming what amounts to a tropical depression over the Hill.

The House and Senate weren't always this way; they used to be a little less corrupt. And not to gloss over the corruption that the Democrats brought to the body when they had the majority power for decades, but when contrasted with the long lurch that the Republicans have made in terms of altering rules and the normal order of the body, the Democrats were tamely corrupt. From Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein comes the book "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track" which the following quote is excerpted (from page 216):

"Majorities are always tempted to dispense with regular order to advance their immediate policy and political objectives. Democrats were not reluctant to do so during their long rein in power, especially in the latter years. But Republicans have far exceeded Democratic abuses of power. Committees have been marginalized in myriad ways, from central party direction to ad hoc groups to ominbus bills. Floor debate and decision making is tightly controlled with restrictive rules and extended time for roll-call votes. Conferences to reconcile differences between the House and Senate are now the setting for breathtaking abuses: minority party members excluded from negotiations, entirely new provisions added in the stealth of night, and routine waivers of time for members to learn what is contained in the reports they must vote on."

The controversy surrounding Rep. Foley's resignation will undoubtedly focus only on the lurid details. Yet it is the problem of a dysfunctional Congress that would permit such inappropriate behavior (or worse, hide it) that is the real shame in this affair. Starting with the leadership and ending with an ethics body that has real teeth, it might be possible for the first branch of the United States government to function like a legislative body should.

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