Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Legislative Unfairness

One reason I am for the line-item veto for Presidents is stories like this:
Schumer changes tune on bioterror cuts

Newsday Washington Bureau

June 6, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Charles Schumer, who has likened $7 million in federal cuts to New York's bioterrorism programs to "rubbing salt in an open wound," voted to cut those programs by 10.4 percent last year, according to Senate records.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pressuring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding to recalculate a new funding formula that disproportionately reduces aid to the state. Schumer, who red-flagged the issue during a news conference Sunday, will take his case directly to Gerberding today.
Sounds pretty horrible, right? Schumer sounds like a hypocrite and he ought to be strung up for changing his heart in such a cynical fashion now that he's up for re-election.

In December, Schumer didn't object to a unanimous voice vote approving a huge bipartisan spending bill that included $95 million in CDC bioterrorism cuts, largely because the measure also included restorations to student loan cuts and other domestic programs.

"There was 7 billion dollars in that bill, restoring student loans, health care, necessary things - every Democrat voted for it," Schumer said yesterday.
Oh. Well. Yea. I mean, terrorism happens, and we should be prepared for that eventuality, but you know, colleges cost a lot of money, and we could use some more infrastructure repairs.

So a vote that sounds, on the face of it, harsh and inconsistent actually comes down to a Hobson's Choice on the Senator's part: vote for it, and get a bundle of bucks to people who really need it, or oppose it, and watch them struggle even more.

And there's a clue there as to why the American legislative system is fraught with corruption and "pork": that any Congresscritter can amend any bill to add anything he or she wants, basically.

And it happens all the time and in theory, it should work like this: I have a bill that's sure to pass. Let's call it the "Feed Kids First" bill and provides funding for hot meals in schools.

OK, I introduce this bill on the floor of Congress, and talk it up a bit, how kids in Dubuque don't get a good breakfast because they're up early helping around the house, and how we ought to give them a chance to eat at school, take a little pressure off mom and dad, that sort of thing. No one has any real objection, but a Congresscritter rises and while lauding this bill, suggests a possible amendment to it, attaching some additional spending for research into why kids have to be up at four to help out around the farm, is there some way we can fix that problem, and eventually phase out this program.

I have no objection. The bill passes.

Here's how it works: I have a bill that might not pass, let's call it "Food For Inner City Kids", and I want your vote. You say, "well, I represent Dubuque, and we don't have too many inner city kids there, but tell you what. If you agree to attach to this bill an amendment to study wind farms, I'll vote for your bill."

So far, not so bad. But now let's vary the circumstances slightly. I really need this bill to pass because I'm up for re-election and my district is just finding out about my affair with a guy at the car wash and I need to pump a lot of money into the district, fast. In the gym lockerroom, I speak with a delegation from the "Congressional Llama Coalition." They refuse to vote for my bill, and their votes could persuade the "Buffalo Concordance" that my bill is worthwhile.

The "CLC" has a pet project of building a bridge to drive llamas over the Colorado at the head of the Grand Canyon. Ought to cost about a billion dollars, but it will go nowhere unless they can trade votes. The project is politically unpopular outside of the Llama Belt, and it would make a really embarassing headline in the papers if it passed alone. So they've attached that bill to a tax cut for people making $200,000 a year or more, which basically covers the editorial board of any media outlet of note. That bill *might* pass, or might not, depending on how big a fuss people can make over it. Obviously, that bill will be rammed through before anyone can read about it.

My co-sponsors hold their noses and agree that the bridge will be the main amendment to the tax cut bill, but that for our votes, they have to agree to include an amendment that allows 50% of the funding that I originally wanted, which may be enough (I've factored all this in when calculating my request, of course...the extra money would have gone to political payoffs).

So what happens is, a worthy program, feeding kids, gets buried in a legislative morass, rather than be passed on its merits. Why? Because the Llama Coalition is the party in power, and not my guys.

Thus ends today's civic lesson.

, ,