Legalized Corruption, Part 1 - Autocracy in the Congress.
In the coming months, the K Street Project is going to get a lot more attention. If you haven't familiarized yourself with this project of legal(ish) graft, it's time. Our government is now being run by crooks who have rigged the system, and the only way reform can happen is if light is shined on the situation (and, more pursuasively, if the bums are thrown out of office).
The GOP have made the argument that the corruptions scandals are just Washington as usual, and that Democrats are equally culpable in the corruption. Dutifully, the media will copy down Ken Mehlman's soundbites and give equal time to this wholly false argument. To contextualize the situation--and explode the assumptions on which the Republican argument depends--there are three key changes Republicans have made in their governing rules to set the stage for gross corruption.
1. The GOP has streamlined decision-making in Washington to effectively eliminate Democrats from lawmaking. In the House, Dems are not invited to committees and are not allowed to introduce legislative alternatives. Amendments are shot down by majority vote. Laws get made behind closed doors, by Republicans, without oversight. In the Senate, Dems have somewhat more power to alter legislation at the front end--but at the back end, when the House and Senate get together in conference committees to reconcile legislation between the two bodies, Dems are barred from participation. Dems are allowed to vote, futily, against the majority, and therein ends their power.
2. It was not enough for the Republicans to remove Dems from the decision-making process. Because the laws they wanted to pass was so legally and ethically dubious, they had to draft them in secret. Enter Tom DeLay, who introduced the practice of drafting legislation in conference committees--those joint committees made up of Congressmen and Senators. Previously, conference committees just reconciled legislation passed in each body. But DeLay began drafting it out of whole cloth in conference--where, of course, Dems were banned.
3. Finally, when it comes time to do their central, Constitutionally-mandated funding of government, Republicans wait until just days before deadlines to pass multi-thousand page appropriations bills no one has read.
Each one of these changes is bad in itself, but taken together, they form the gears for the machine of corruption. Having defanged and removed Democrats from lawmaking, Republicans freed themselves up to draft legislation in secret, which they then sprang at the eleventh hour on Democrats and a nation, so that when the secretive, corrupt bills were passed, the only people who knew what was in them were Republicans. You might think that provides a perfect opportunity to essentially play unhindered with the laws of the land. You'd be right.
So what's in those bills?