Mute Congress

The parliament is an imperfect institution, just as democracy itself, but the U.S. Congress has added new dimensions to the meaning of imperfection.

Corruption is, in a way, built into the American electoral system by political action committees (PACs), which allow businesses and labor unions to circumvent the ban on financing election campaigns.

Financial support for electoral campaigns translates into obligations for incumbent politicians.

The Congress, by allowing interest groups to influence the legislation process, invites dishonesty and deceit to Capitol Hill.

There have been few cases of bribery and fraud. Over the past three or four years fewer than 10 congressmen have been suspected of breaking the law. The most public case was of James Traficant, congressman from Ohio, who was removed from the House of Representatives for bribery and other crimes only after he was sent to prison.

The Congress does not go to great lengths to disclose instances of ethical misconduct and other crimes committed by its members, according to the Congressional Accountability Project (CAP).“Even though the House of Representatives and Senate have a Constitutional obligation to discipline their members, Republicans and Democrats allow U.S. officeholders to abuse their power and use their influential positions for personal gains,” says Gary Ruskin, the Director of CAP.

The Congress, fearing public scrutiny, came up with an absurd requirement to get around its constitutional obligation. Anyone wanting to file a complaint about a legislator must obtain a special letter of recommendation from a member of the Congress. This bureaucratic obstacle has proved very effective. Between the years of 1997 and 2000 no one was successful in obtaining a letter of recommendation.

The power of labor unions and the role of media are diminishing. The ethical standards of Congress are increasingly questionable and the influence of pro-business Republicans has become stronger. As a direct consequence of these developments the ability of big businesses to promote their own interests on Capitol Hill has no limits.

When the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor to grant weapon producers and dealers immunity from civil claims, it didn’t even bother cynically invoking public interest as the basis for its decision.

The most calculating congressmen find it uncomfortable to openly support an interest of a particular business. To avoid putting themselves in difficult positions, some congressmen practice the technique of presenting new bills just before they are passed. This gives them the opportunity to discreetly add regulations to those bills, which would otherwise be difficult to support openly. An example of this is the paragraph added to a public safety releasing Eli Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies from responsibility for the side effects of the vaccinations they produced. No one took responsibility for making the addition.

The fall of the moral authority of the Congress is a product of the corrupted legislation process and corrupt-tendencies of the congressmen.

Dominated by Republicans, the American Congress is becoming increasingly homogeneous. It also leaves the initiative in matters of the highest importance to the administration’s discretion, while limiting itself to matters of much lesser magnitude.

Lack of passion and inquisitiveness in discussions regarding matters of great weight show the extent of the political and intellectual degradation of the Congress. The debate on the war in Iraq in the Congress compared to the debate in the British Parliament is a perfect example. “We were passive and mute, paralyzed by our own incertitude,” said Robert Byrd, the 85-year-old Senator from West Virginia.

This mute Congress puts forth empty gestures instead of debating principles that shape the future of the country and the world. Renaming french fries “freedom fries” in the congressional cafeterias as petty revenge on the French for not supporting the war, or punishing Turkey, which didn’t show enough enthusiasm for the war, by witholding promised help, are examples of buffoonery.

The relationship between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, the importance of each of these and the roles they play, have changed over the years. Progressive degradation of the U.S. Congress is part of this ongoing process. Unless constituents take matters in their own hands and clean up the congressional mess, our system will continue to degenerate.

Lets see if thing turn around in the next elections.

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