Thursday, December 27, 2007

Congressional Year In Review

I've been moving across country this whole month, so that's why I haven't posted. So if anyone's still reading, here's some random ramblings that have been swimming about my head recently...

David Broder (along with, apparently, the rest of the country) is whining about how Congress got nothing done this past year. Pelosi, for her part, is bragging about how many bills passed. They're both missing the point. Honestly, there are about three or four bills per year that most Americans care about. I count five this year, and I'd say Congress did well on three out of those.

First, the screwups. They failed horribly on the appropriations bill, refusing to drag out the battle over Iraq funding for as long as possible and then sending in a bill stuffed with more pork than a Jimmy Dean sausage, and a military approprations bill which paid off more contractors than even the President wanted. (Rural PA's John Murtha (D) and St. Petersburg, FL's Bill Young - that's your congressman, Mike - are responsible for the most abuse here. It's a bipartisan screwing.) The ethics reforms passed earlier in the year are toothless. The disclosure requirement for earmarks actually, in my mind, increases the incentive for House members to get their pet projects approved - voters function on the assumption that earmarks are wasteful and unnecessary unless the money's coming to their district.

But there were successes. They got the SCHIP expansion through, but Bush vetoed it and you can't blame Congress for Bush's intransigence. They passed a minimum wage increase, which I'm of two minds about but which a vast majority of Americans support.

And they got through a decent - if not perfect - energy bill. They could have gotten rid of the @$#@! corn ethanol subsidies (which, according to the Economist, are driving up my beer prices) and begun approving importation of sugar-based ethanol from Brazil. Right now, ethanol from corn barely produces more energy than it uses, and cellulosic ethanol - which the bill wants to be the source of a significant amount of our ethanol in 20 years - uses more energy than it produces at this point. I'd be a fan of sinking a bunch of research dollars into making ethanol production more efficient, but I don't think we ought to be mandating and subsidizing a process that isn't to the point of viability yet. (In the long run, if the process is made more viable via research, the market would make subsidies pointless. But that assumes that our farm policies make sense. Which they don't.) I would also like to see subsidies for oil and gas production disappear, which would raise gas prices a bit but my car gets 46 MPG so screw y'all.

The biggest part of the bill is the increased CAFE standards, which most people outside of Detroit - myself included - seem to like. Detroit seems stuck in the "any color you want as long as it's black" mentality with respect to fuel economy - they produce a bunch of gas-guzzlers and basically force Americans to buy them. Toyota and Honda produce hybrids, but they don't have the production capacity that GM, Ford, and Chrysler have. All the American automakers are losing business to the lighter, greener cars produced by their foreign rivals - the new CAFE standards may actually save their skins if they stop bitching long enough to design more fuel-efficient cars.

Anyway, the best legacy of this Congressional session is that they didn't really do anything colossally stupid. That's a victory, for Congress. The closest they came was that they, in a fit of Christian insecurity, passed a bill bragging about how important Christianity is. I'd like to ask my Christian readers this: why are some Christians so insecure? Seriously, y'all are 88% of the population, there are churches and crosses and little fish thingies everywhere, there are Christian Bibles in every hotel room, politicians fall all over themselves to out-Jesus each other, we have a bunch of Christian-based legislation such as the online gambling ban and Utah's liquor laws, the phrase "In God we trust" piggybacks on all our currency and we all know what God the 1954 Congress was referring to when they put it there, and yet some Christians still feel the need to jump around like an eight-year-old who thinks he's being ignored, shouting, "Hey, look at me! I'm important!" I don't get it.

Anyway, merry belated Christmas. And my thoughts are with the people of Pakistan, who lost their best hope for democracy today. Bhutto wasn't perfect, but she was probably the only candidate out there who could have led a peaceful transition away from Musharraf's autocratic, Islamist-enabling regime. I sincerely hope that Pakistan doesn't devolve into civil war from here... but I'm not holding out too much hope.


Barzelay said...

They also almost did something else colossally stupid: they almost voted on (it would have passed) a bill granting immunity to the telecoms who broke federal laws by providing the CIA access to wiretaps of all their communications, without warrants. It was bad enough that they passed changes to FISA that made it even easier to get those warrants.

Mike said...

He ain't my Congressman -- I didn't vote for him. And as the Bush administration has taught us, you're only the leader of those who voted for you.

Ditto on the ethanol subsidies - they do more harm than good by distracting us from researching more viable alternative energy sources. Really (as you may have guessed) I'm not a fan of subsidies in general.

I still can't believe it about Bhutto's assassination. Or, worse yet, maybe I can. So it goes.

Ben said...

Why does one of your Christian readers require a password to view his/her site?

As for the pork-stuffed appropriations a federal employee all I can say is "at least they passed a budget!" It is no fun living on continuing resolutions in federal government-land, I tell ya.