Friday, November 03, 2006

Vote Democratic to Restore Accountability to Government

One of the basic functions of the legislative branch is to hold the executive branch accountable for its shortcomings in policy and management. In this regard, the Republican leadership has failed to do its duty.
The Boston Globe ran this story back in May on the GOP's abdication of congressional oversight in recent years:
Back in the mid-1990s, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, aggressively delving into alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration, logged 140 hours of sworn testimony into whether former president Bill Clinton had used the White House Christmas card list to identify potential Democratic donors.
In the past two years, a House committee has managed to take only 12 hours of sworn testimony about the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
The jarring comparison reflects the way Congress has conducted its oversight role during the GOP's era of one-party rule in Washington.
As Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann point out in the current Foreign Affairs (subscription needed to read entire essay), congressional oversight has a long, honorable and remarkably non-partisan tradition:
Perhaps the most noteworthy effort was the [House] Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which was created during the buildup to World War II to investigate alleged overspending in the construction of a camp for draftees in south-central Missouri. After visiting the site and talking to the president, in February 1941 then Senator Harry Truman proposed the creation of a special committee. Within a few months, the body had begun a long series of hearings. "At Truman's insistence," the Truman biographer David McCullough has written, "any member of the Senate was welcome to ...take part in the hearing... There was no browbeating of witnesses, no unseemly outbursts tolerated on the part of anybody." In the weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt was urged to try to disband the body. He demurred. The committee produced more than 50 reports, all unanimous, and conducted more than 500 hearings. It is said to have saved the country $15 billion.
As we all know, Truman wasn't punished for his effective work with the special committee. Quite the opposite; he was elevated to the vice presidency.
But oversight, once considered a patriotic duty, has fallen out of favor with the current Republican regime. You may have read of the recent report of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), which said that thousands of weapons paid for by U.S. tax dollars cannot be accounted for.
Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., who serves as the SIGIR, is hardly the sort who would set out to create trouble for the administration. He's worked for George W. Bush in the White House, and previously in the governor's office in Texas. In a recent interview on NPR, Bowen seemed at pains to point out that much of the reconstruction work is moving forward.
Now, if you think that the mission in Iraq is worth the loss of thousands of lives and expediture of billions of dollars, you might think it's important enough to do it well. Not so the gang in charge. As the
New York Times reports, the GOP leadership in Congress is shutting down the Inspector General's office:
And tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen’s supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip.
The order comes in the form of an obscure provision that terminates his federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, on Oct. 1, 2007. The clause was inserted by the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee over the objections of Democratic counterparts during a closed-door conference, and it has generated surprise and some outrage among lawmakers who say they had no idea it was in the final legislation.
Even the Senator who chairs the relevant committee was taken aback at the last minute provision in the bill:
Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.
Neither the House nor the Senate version contained such a termination clause before the conference, all involved agree.
“It’s truly a mystery to me,” Ms. Collins said. “I looked at what I thought was the final version of the conference report and that provision was not in at that time.”
“The one thing I can confirm is that this was a last-minute insertion,” she said.
For years, we have been led to believe that GOP moderates like Susan Collins and Mike Castle would provide the adult supervision to ensure that the majority would behave itself. Instead what we see is an unchecked Republican majority evading the most reasonable constraint on its power when it suits its purpose.
If the Republican regime in Washington refuses provide any legitimate oversight of the government they control, then we can impose such oversight upon them. There is one way to restore accountability to federal government, and that is to vote Democratic in the election on Tuesday.

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