According to the rules, conferences have to include at least one public open meeting; this rarely occurs today. GOP chairmen routinely call a meeting where the press is invited for a photo-op; the meeting is quickly shut down, and then the republicans sneak off to hold the real meeting, without any democratic representation at all. One House aide complained that, "More often than not, we're trying to figure out where the real conference is." (RS, p. 48.)
In one legendary incident, Rep. Charles Rangel went in search of a secret conference chaired by Thomas. When he found it, he knocked on the door repeatedly for several minutes. Rangel refused to give up and leave, so when Thomas finally opened the door, he stated, "This meeting is only open to the coalition of the willing." (RS, p. 49.)
The republicans are also notorious for sending a bill to the floor, and after it's passed, they revise and rewrite the entire bill! One example of this was the Patriot Act. To ensure that democrats can't alter any of the last minute changes, republicans have overseen a huge increase in the number of "closed" bills; these go to the floor without any possibility of amendment. This tactic undercuts the very essence of democracy, as allowing bills to be debated openly is the only way the minority can have an impact whatsoever by offering amendments to legislation. (RS, p. 50.)
A classic example of this was the Central American Free Trade Agreement that was passed in 2005. The vote was held late at night away from public view, of course. I should mention here that the 109th Congress is commonly referred to as the "Dracula" Congress, as 20 bills were passed between midnight and seven a.m. CAFTA went to vote early; at 11:02 p.m. After the 15 minute time expired, the vote was 180 nays to 175 yays. The republicans then held the vote open for 47 minutes, while republicans strode up and down the aisles, chopping their hands at opposing republicans. They even got their leader, Pres. Bush, out of bed, and on a cell phone to intimidate any republican opposers; the phone was passed around to republicans like a bottle of booze! Rep. Robin Hayes was approached by Dennis Hastert and told," Negotiations are open. Put on the table the things you need for your district and people need and we'll get them." After receiving assurances that the administration would help textile manufacturers in his home state of N.C. by restricting the flow of Chinese imports, Hayes changed his vote to yay. CAFTA passed by two votes at 12:03 a.m.(RS, p. 52.)
But keeping votes open by freezing the clock, and leaving minority members from open negotiations is only the tip of the iceberg! The second session of our 109th Congress has worked less days than any other Congress in U.S. history. In the 60's and 70's, Congress met at an average of 162 days a year; in the 90's, the average was down to 139 days. This year, Congress only met for 93 days total! Our current Congress has shattered the record for laziness set by the notorious "Do Nothing Congress" of 1948, which met for 252 days between both the House and Senate. Our current Congress met for only 218 days.( RS, p. 53.) Yet they still receive their salaries, and do nothing for it.
Those who actually work on Capitol Hill will tell you that some of these workdays were shameless mail-ins and half days. The typical workweek begins late on Tuesday afternoon and ends on Thursday at noon, so our representatives of "democracy" can go home for their four day weekends. On nine of it's "workdays", the House held not a single vote, as they met for less than 11 minutes. The Senate managed to top this feat of laziness, as three of their "workdays" lasted less than one minute! I don't know of a single corporation that would keep their employees, if they pulled this crap, yet the republicans seem to do it with glee. We can't really blame the democrats for this gross negligence and laziness because they have been completely shut out of the legislative process. They aren't the ones holding the gavel; they are usually attempting to find hidden conferences and quickly reviewing revised bills that they won't be allowed to debate, or amend anyway.
Congress' role is made crystal clear in our Constitution. It is supposed to serve as a check on the excesses of the Executive branch. The House and Senate serve to pass laws, and the President is supposed to execute them. This system does not exist under the Bush regime. From the 1950's to the 1995 republican takeover in Congress, no democratic chairman has ever issued a subpoena without either minority consent, or a committee vote. During the Clinton years, the republicans issued over 1,000 subpoenas to investigate alleged administration and/or democratic misconduct. This was over 2 million documents! Under President Bush, not one single subpoena has been issued for republican misconduct.
This is truly a scary thing, as we citizens are aware of gross negligence and overspending by certain corporations working in Iraq. I don't have to name these companies, as we all know who they are, and that they stand for greed and corruption. Unfortunately, it's you and I, John Q., public citizen who is footing the bill. The fact that our government refused to pass the Federal minimum wage hike is only more proof of their incompetence. The republicans would only pass the bill if they were allowed to make a huge cut in estate taxes for wealthy Americans. Of course, the democrats were against this appalling measure, so the bill didn't pass.( The Nation, 11-05-06 edition, p.21.)
As a result, many cities and states are raising their minimum wages on their own. This year, legislators in AZ, MI, CA, and NM have raised their minimum wages, and several cities have done the same. Take Santa Fe, NM, Mayor David Coss, for example. Three years ago, he fought for and received by overwhelming votes, a minimum wage hike to $8.50 an hour, with successive raises built in that will hike it up to $10.50 an hour by 2008. In 1994, Baltimore, MD kickstarted the process by passing a modest living wage ordinance that affected 1500 city workers. By the turn of the century, over 60 cities had passed similar laws; dozens more have followed suit. In some cases, only city employees and businesses were affected, but others passed it across the board.(The Nation, p. 20.)
They have all realized that $5.15 an hour means a salary of only $11,000 a year, for a 40 hour workweek. A single person could barely subside at this level, much less a family. All of these statistics point to a Congress that is uncaring, less than mediocre, and unacceptable.
As for the war for "democracy" in Iraq, that is a laughable farce! A recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 78% of Iraqis believe that the U.S. military presence is "provoking more conflict than preventing."(The Nation, p. 3.) The Iraqis have realized that the U.S. occupation is contributing to the crisis. Another recent study from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in conjunction with Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, estimated the civilian death toll at 655,000 people.(The Nation, p.3.)
This is over half a million citizens, and the number is raised by an average of 70 deaths per day. In other words, in just three more month's time, the civilian death toll will reach ¾ million civilians. I would want us gone, too, if my country lost almost a million citizens! These staggering losses of life don't seem to matter to our President and the republicans now in office.
For the new fiscal year, the republicans passed a $436 billion defense appropriations bill, with $70 billion extra added for the "emergency" in Iraq.( RS, p.53.) Where is all of this money going? It is certainly not going to the Iraqi citizens, rather, it's being given to private corporations that just happen to have close ties to the White House; these companies don't even properly armor their supply trucks, as one can see from Youtube, and other video links online.
The big question is where are we getting all of this money that our government is spending so quickly? When Clinton left office, the US budget had a surplus of $236 billion. Today, thanks to Congress, the US budget is $296 billion in the hole! This year alone, over 65% of all money in the world will be borrowed by America. It took 42 presidents before Bush to borrow $1 trillion; in six years, that number has doubled!(RS, p.82.)
Where are we borrowing all of these funds from? The answer is a scary one. The US shells out over $77 billion, in interest only, to foreign creditors, including payment on a $300 billion loan that we currently owe to China. That's right, folks, China.
What's all of this money spent on? In a nutshell, campaign contributions for the republicans. Take the Energy Bill, for example. It was done by republicans because once again, the democrats were shut out of the conference process for debate. During this process, many were made aware that several of the bill's provisions were openly for sale.
Take Westar Energy, from Kansas, for example. Westar wanted favorable provisions inserted into the bill; in an internal company memo, it openly acknowledged that members of Congress had requested that Westar donate money to their campaigns, in exchange for said provisions. Two of the politicians that requested donations were former LA Congressman, Billy Tauzin, and TX current Energy and Commerce chairman, Joe Barton. The memo stated, "They have made this request in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns." Westar's total amount of campaign contributions was $58,200 (RS, p.83.)
Keep in mind that this was for one favor. It's no huge wonder, then, how the republican party has such a huge war chest of campaign contributions. It's very simple; they are selling bill provisions like whores in a brothel. The only way to stop them is to raid that brothel, and get rid of the sickening corruption that has plagued our current Congress. It's time for the American public to open their eyes, and get out and vote!