Nation Trembles as Congress Reassembles

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The
gang that Mark Twain called “America’s only native criminal class”
has returned to Washington. Get ready for a lot of bad news. So
long as Congress remains in session, everyone’s life, liberty, and
property will be in heightened jeopardy.

In
a government of divided powers, our national legislature is the
most craven and irresponsible branch. Congress attracts a special
breed of men and women. They are ambitious to get and to keep their
offices. They are willing to do almost anything, so long as it is
dishonorable, to remain in their positions. Think of Congress as
a glorified brothel, and ask yourself what kind of people work in
a brothel. When they are not out hustling money for their campaign
funds, they are dreaming up ways to claim credit they do not deserve
and to shift the blame they do deserve.

In
any event, they’re back at work now, and they’ve a lot to do. Well,
actually they have only one thing to do; they always have just one
thing to do, and that’s to get themselves reelected. The next election
will take place on November 5, so there’s not much time left for
these harlots to do what they do best. Look for them to work overtime.

For
the next two months, we’ll all be bombarded by salvos of TV advertising
paid for by the people who give money to the members of Congress
so that after those members have been reelected, they’ll give the
taxpayers’ money to their supporters, who will realize a ten-thousand-percent
rate of return on their investment. These TV ads will show Congressman
Smedley, smiling like a freshly painted clown, standing arm in arm
with the handsome Mrs. Smedley and the couple’s four well-scrubbed
teenage brats, all of whom will be flashing the same wholesome,
toothy, moronic smiles. What a fine family they must be! Against
a background consisting of a gently waving U.S. flag and a patriotic
sound track, the message will be thrust at the viewer: vote for
Smedley; his scumbag opponent would screw you even worse.

Meanwhile,
these worthy public servants have to keep themselves busy in Washington
for a few weeks before they can evacuate the DC swamps and rush
back to Peoria to embrace the geezers in nursing homes and to kiss
ass in corporate offices and union halls. In particular, they must
occupy themselves now in drawing up plans for a gigantic new federal
bureau, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It won’t be easy,
so don’t be surprised if they don’t get it done before the election.

The
problem, you see, is that Congress divides its “business” into a
multitude of fiefdoms ruled by committee chairmen and chairmadams.
In each area, these robber barons hold nearly all the power in their
grubby hands. Because Congress divides the power in this way, the
interest groups that want to feast at taxpayer expense have to get
past the relevant barons first, and for that privilege they must
pay. Congress is nothing if not an organization built on the principle
of quid pro quo.

Right
now, congressional oversight of the more than twenty agencies slated
to be combined in the new Department of Homeland Security is divided,
according to a White House count, among eighty-eight committees
and subcommittees. Spending for the new agency’s component parts
now gains its approval from ten of the thirteen appropriations subcommittees.
So, a great many members of Congress now possess a valuable piece
of the action. Do you think they are eager to give up the very powers
they wield to extract dough and deference from petitioners who seek
what only they can give? Not bloody likely. Already, more than fifty
hearings have taken place on homeland security matters.

To
make matters even more complicated, President Bush is insisting
that he be given authority to hire, fire, and set pay rates for
the estimated 170,000 employees of the new department, thereby robbing
the barons of their patronage and cutting into the power of the
public-employee unions. Senator Joseph Lieberman has let it be known
that the president is asking much too much, and Senator Robert Byrd,
the evil procedural genius of the upper house, is pawing the earth
and expressing grave reservations about the administration’s DHS
proposal.

Besides
the DHS job, which probably won’t get done on time, Congress intends
to explore how much damage it can do by monkeying with employee-pension
arrangements, a terrorism-insurance subsidy, a massive prescription-drug
giveaway, and federal aid to so-called faith-based providers of
government largess. You want to talk about something faith-based,
then talk about the beliefs of people who suppose that anything
good can come out of Congress’s fiddling with such matters. Why
not be honest and call the post-election session that looms not
the lame-duck session but the lame-brain session.

All
this, of course, is but democracy in action, so eat it up, all you
democrats. But if you are going to select representatives to the
ruling crowd by means of what H. L. Mencken called “advance auctions
of stolen goods,” don’t be surprised if you wake up and find yourself
subject to people who make ordinary pickpockets look, by comparison,
nearly noble.

September
5, 2002

Robert
Higgs [send him mail]
is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent
Institute
, editor of The
Independent Review
,
and author of Crisis
and Leviathan

and numerous scholarly and popular articles on Congress.

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