Saturday, November 17, 2007

Republicans stall and delay and the E-N blames Democrats

I wanted to pull my hair out this Saturday after reading this editorial in the San Antonio Express-News.
The piece is entitled "Democrats flunk fiscal responsibility" and it unfairly bashes Democrats for being late in passing budget resolutions before the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The editorial starts out by noting the past failure of Republicans to complete their budget work on time while they were in charge of the Legislature. Calling the GOP “fiscally irresponsible,” the editorial goes on to say:

Nothing exemplified that irresponsibility better than the failure of the GOP-led Congress to pass in a timely manner the annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government.
In 2004, Congress passed only one of 13 appropriations on time. In 2005, it passed only two of 12 appropriations on time. Last year, it passed only one spending bill before the 2007 fiscal year began.
With a record that poor, you'd think the new Democratic majority would find it easy to distinguish itself, deliver on campaign promises about fiscal responsibility and burnish its credentials with voters. Evidently, Republicans set the bar too high.
When the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, the Democrat-led Congress had passed no spending bills.

But hold on a minute! First off, this has nothing to do with fiscal discipline. If anything, I guess you could criticize them for their time management skills, but even this would be unfair to Democrats in light of the way the Republican opposition has behaved all year.
As this article from the Center for American Progress makes clear, it has been a Republican strategy this year to gum up the legislative process, slow things down and generally try to make Democrats look bad by throwing up as many roadblocks and legislative delays as possible. The artcile notes that Republicans sponsored 209 amendments to appropriation bills this session, more than four times as many as Democrats sponsored in 2006 when they were still in the minority.
Many of these amendments did not garner majority support from their own party and appear to have been little more than delaying tactics.

All of these efforts in the House did not stop the approval of appropriation measures this year, nearly all of which passed by wide margins. They did, however, delay transmission of those measures to the Senate. Had the House been able to meet its target of completing action on all appropriations by the end of June, which is its normal goal, it would have more than doubled the number of legislative days available to the Senate for the completion of those bills before the beginning of the new fiscal year. As it is, the delays in the House will strengthen the ability of senators allied with the White House to use obstructionist tactics to cause even greater mischief.

And once in the Senate, the appropriation bills are subject to filibusters and cloture votes which Republicans have been employing this year in record numbers according to McClatchy News Service.

The power of a determined minority in the Senate can block completion of the work of the entire Congress, and this power is increasing as the year is passing. Obstruction in one area of legislative activity increasingly affects Congress’ ability to finish its work in other areas. By the beginning of the August recess, the Senate had been forced on 13 occasions to vote on motions to proceed. That is more than six times the average number of cloture votes required over the same time period in the previous two Congresses. Each one of those votes required wasted days that could have been used to consider appropriation measures. Most of the measures that were filibustered eventually passed the Senate by huge majorities, such as legislation fulfilling the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, which was adopted 97-0; a bill improving security in U.S. Courts, which passed 93-3; and the Clean Energy Act, which passed 91-0. The problem in each instance was shutting off the filibuster so that the Senate could do its work.

On the same day the E-N editorial ran, it was reported that Republicans had successfully blocked the Farm Bill with yet another filibuster.

Typically a bipartisan bonanza for rural America, the agriculture policy measure was stalled by a Republican filibuster that summed up the dismal state of relations in Congress. The bill joined an income-tax repair, a children’s health insurance program, energy measures, terrorist surveillance and Pentagon policy — not to mention financing for every agency except the Pentagon — as issues needing attention next month.

Why block a Farm Bill that will ultimately pass with overwhelming bi-partisan support? Simple politics. Sen. Tom Harkin some it up thusly:
“Republicans sense they are going to have a tough time next year,” Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said. “So any way they can stain Democrats and anything they can do to make this place look dysfunctional and blame everybody for it, they think that is going to help them.”

And obviously the tactic is working when the GOP can play these delaying games and then get the Express-News to publish editorials bashing Democrats for being “fiscally irresponsible” for failing to pass these appropriations bills on time.
My one question is whether the E-N wrote this editorial out of ignorance - not realizing what is really going on. Or if they are well aware of what is happening and are simply playing their part in a coordinated partisan effort.

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