Thursday, February 10, 2005

Scarborough: Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day—Bipartisan Complaint from a Congressional Insider

DISTURBINGLY CANDID, DEPRESSINGLY DETAILED

It's an American icon: Jimmy Stewart, freshly appointed Senator, ready to take on the machine, in Mr Smith Goes to Washington.
In the 1937 classic an idealistic Jefferson Smith... barnstorms Washington, hoping to make a difference. But the young senator is soon confronted by the awesome might of Washington's political machine... they unleash the political attack dogs, hoping to destroy the reputation of the young reformer. But our Mr. Smith fights back, defeats the political bigwigs, and watches his leaders confess their errors. He even wins the girl.
Throw out that image, "Congressman Joe" Scarborough tells us. It's not how Washington really works. In Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day, the Reagan Republican, one-time Congressional firebrand, now political commentator on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, tells us how it does work, and how badly the mechanism is broken: 7.5 trillion dollars of debt's worth.
...back when I was in Congress, Michigan representative Nick Smith was kind enough to draw diagrams in crayon to help me understand just how hard it would be to pay off America's multi-trillion dollar debt... if I had earned $1 million every single day from the moment Jesus Christ was born until the year 2000, I would still not have earned enough money...
1994. Freshman congressmen meet for the first time on the Hill with their leader, Newt Gingrich. Among 80-some new faces in the House is Joe Scarborough, who parlayed his constituents' dismay with new President Clinton's proposal to "socialize one-seventh of the economy" into a seat long held by a Florida Democrat. These were the contractors with America, determined to keep their historic agreement and siderail Democrat and "Old Republican" spending plans alike.

Along the way, Scarborough had his nose rubbed, again and again, in the ingrained dishonesty of deal-making in the Congress. As he shares his experience, he doesn't spare Republicans or Democrats, Congressmen or Senators—or even Presidents and their advisors. And while a book of less than 200 pages can hardly cover every seamy detail of a seven-year political career, there is enough substance to make this a very disturbing book to read.
...no money can be spent by the federal government unless the House first approves it. As such, all of the finger-pointing toward the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is a bit disingenuous.
   It is also intellectually dishonest for the White House to blame their Republican fraternity brothers and sorority sisters in Congress for the current fiscal crisis... [because] no budget-busting spending bill can become law without first being signed by the President.
Scarborough details how President Clinton and Dick Morris broke the Republican Revolution of 1994, and why the election of George W. Bush in 2000 did not change the dynamic in Washington for the better. He explains the power of the "Fat White Pink Boys," the staffers and aides and bureaucrats who really run Washington.

Lobbyists, media pundits and his fellow revolutionaries are not spared, either. Scarborough draws parallels between his experiences in Washington, and his dealings with vindictive frat boys on the University of Alabama campus, determined to preserve their lock on the student government.
...if I were charged with the responsibility of starting a superfraternity for the ages, my first two recruiting targets would be George W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton. Bush would be in charge of pledge recruitment, and Clinton would be set loose on sorority row to set up weekend parties.
Scarborough seems to be telling us that our Congress spends like a drunken sailor when one of two conditions are met: Democrats have a majority in Congress, or the White House and Congress are both Republican. In evidence, he lists recent and historic pork-barrel spending, corporate welfare and sneaky riders to popular bills that drain the veins of taxpayer funds. Consider what happened after September 11, 2001.
One depressing example came... while the World Trade Center's ashes were still hot. Soon after September 11th, Congress passed a $318 billion defense bill in response to the national challenges created by the terrorist attacks. Nearly $10 billion was tacked on to the September 11th bill by members of Congress hoping to bring a few extra bucks back to their home states. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, members did this by tacking on "riders" to this crucial bill... [Emphasis mine.]
There is a scene at the end of the movie Protocol, where Goldie Hawn's character Sunny Davis fixes the foreign service bureaucrats with a steely eye and says, "People get the government they deserve—from now on, I'll be keeping my eye on you." Scarborough's conclusion is straight out of Sunny Davis' philosophy.
You have a duty to hold your elected representatives accountable and to let them know you are watching their votes. And if they don't shape up, you will do all you can to send them packing.
Otherwise we can expect the debt to continue to grow, and the focus in Washington not to be good governance, but gaining, retaining and exercising power.
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