Our 'Conservative' Republican Congress

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The 109th Congress has completed its first session and begun the second and final session of its two-year term. Since it is an established truth that no man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session, it would be a good idea to see what our “conservative” Republican Congress has done during the previous year.

The Republicans in the 109th Congress have an even greater majority than they had in the 108th Congress. The previous Congress ended in the House with 227 Republicans, 205 Democrats, 1 Independent, and 2 vacancies, and in the Senate with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 1 Independent. The House now consists of 231 Republicans, 202 Democrats, 1 Independent, and 1 vacancy (because of the resignation of “The Honorable” Randy “Duke” Cunningham [R-CA] on December 1, 2005). The Senate is now made up of 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 1 Independent.

The 2004 Republican Party Platform contains the usual bones thrown to conservatives to keep them supporting the party:

Our leaders must make sure that the growth of the federal government remains in check.

We must maintain our commitment to free and fair trade, lower taxes, limited regulation, and a limited, efficient government that keeps up with the new realities of a changing world.

We endorse creating a commission to evaluate discretionary spending on federal agencies and programs to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used for the best, most efficient purposes. Such a commission would determine whether certain programs are duplicative, wasteful or inefficient, outdated or irrelevant, or failed. It would recommend to Congress programs that could be terminated, moved, or restructured to make the government more efficient.

Whether this is just empty rhetoric remains to be seen.

There were 169 new public laws enacted during the first session of the Republican-controlled 109th Congress. Did any of them do anything to lower taxes, reduce spending, cut waste, ease regulations, or eliminate federal programs? Do we have less liberty now at the end of the first session of the 109th Congress than we had at the beginning? Do we have a government that is smaller or more limited or more decentralized?

Given the track record of Congress, I think that most people already know the answers to these questions: Very, very few. Yes. No.

Frivolous Laws

A great many of these new public laws are frivolous. The chief business of Congress seems to be the naming of federal buildings, federal courthouses, and, the congressional favorite, post offices. That was the purpose of twenty-nine of these new laws. Other frivolous laws include appointing two people as citizen regents of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, authorizing the erection of a statue of Rosa Parks in the U.S. Capitol, recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States, authorizing the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a memorial in Louisiana to honor the Buffalo Soldiers, and my personal favorite — an amendment to a previous law to allow for an adjustment in the number of free roaming horses permitted in Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina. Must these things really take an act of Congress to get done? Congressmen make $165,200 a year. Congressional leaders make even more. Is naming buildings what we are paying them their salary for? But on the other hand: Perhaps it is a good idea if Congress spends more of its time on frivolous laws like these and less of its time making appropriations of billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money.

Trivial Laws

Many of these new public laws are trivial. The Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund financing rate was extended to October 1, 2005. The Communications Act of 1934 was amended by the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005. Individuals serving as Executive Director, Deputy Executive Directors, and General Counsel of the Office of Compliance can now serve one additional term. A portion of the White Salmon River is now a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The south boundary of the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Arizona is now corrected, as are the boundaries of the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The continued funding of boating safety programs is now ensured. The date in an earlier law was modified. Beaver County, Utah, was conveyed a parcel of land. The postage stamp for breast cancer research has been extended for two more years. Appropriations for the restoration of the Angel Island Immigration Station in California have been made. The Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation now has permission to increase the diameter of a natural gas pipeline in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. And, of course, who can forget the new law to allow binding arbitration clauses to be included in contracts affecting land within the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona.

Congressional Meddling

There are some things that Congress did last year that it clearly had no business getting involved in. Unfortunately, however, this is typically what happens every year.

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 was amended by the Assistance for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act of 2005 to provide assistance for orphans and other vulnerable children in developing countries. It was also amended by the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which authorizes the President “to furnish assistance for programs in developing countries to provide affordable and equitable access to safe water and sanitation.” Helping children in other countries and helping other countries have clean water are noble things that many American people would gladly support with their own money; however, it should not be the concern of Congress.

The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 (PL 109-129) provides “for the collection and maintenance of human cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and research.” Public Law 109-96 amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act “to provide for the regulation of all contact lenses as medical devices.” Could the Founding Fathers have ever imagined the government they created involving itself in medicine research and regulation?

Two new public laws relate to outer space. Public Law 109-155 authorizes appropriations for NASA. Public Law 109-112 has to do with funding the International Space Station. How long is this myth going to persist that space exploration and study is a function of government?

Unfortunately, the government is still in the flood insurance business. Three new public laws relate to the national flood insurance program. The last time I checked, there were thousands of insurance companies in the United States. Why is the government competing with them? Why should the taxpayers subsidize those who wish to live near a flood plain?

Public Law 109-150 temporarily extends the programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965 until March 31, 2006, which ensures the continued federal control over the nation’s schools. I think that the clause in the Constitution that authorizes federal spending on education is mentioned after the clause that authorizes space exploration and study.

Another example of congressional meddling is its interference in the Terri Schiavo case (PL 109-3).

Income Transfer Programs

Income transfer programs are often disguised by Congress with long names. Public Law 109-4 reauthorized the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant program through June of 2005, Public Law 109-19 extended it through September of 2005, and Public Law 109-155 extended it through March of 2006. There are, of course, many other income transfer programs that are already in existence that have been authorized by earlier Congresses.

Congressional Pork

Congressmen love pork-barrel spending, and so do many Americans — if the pork is earmarked for their district. Of course, congressmen never label pork for what it really is. It is always disguised as an appropriations bill. A typical example is what is featured on the homepage of Republican Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO). Instead of saying: “Congressman Blunt Skims $27.17 Million from U.S. taxpayers for Military-related Spending in His District,” we instead read the following: “Congressman Blunt Delivers $27.17 Million for Southwest Missouri Research Projects.” When we follow the link we are told that this piece of pork is from the 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R.2863).

Public Law 109-59 is the infamous $286 billion, pork-laden highway bill. Prior to the enactment of this law, there were six new laws extending the old pork-laden highway bill. After signing this into law, the president congratulated House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) for “helping his constituents” to receive more than $200 million of this money. Only Bush and the unprincipled Republicans in Congress could call raping the taxpayers “helping his constituents.”

Public Law 109-54 makes appropriations for the Department of the Interior. Public Law 109-55 makes appropriations for the Legislative Branch. Public Law 109-90 makes appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. Public Law 109-97 makes appropriations for the Department of Agriculture. Public Law 109-102 makes appropriations for Department of State. Public Law 109-103 makes appropriations for the Army Corps of Engineers. Public Law 109-108 makes appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice. Public Law 109-115 makes appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development. Public Law 109-149 makes appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Public Law 109-162 makes more appropriations for the Department of Justice.

Public Law 109-77 makes continuing appropriations for FY 2006. Public Law 109-105 makes further continuing appropriations for FY 2006, as does Public Law 109-128.

It is all these appropriations that necessitate a federal budget that is fast approaching $3 trillion a year and a national debt of over $8 trillion.

Evil Laws

Although some things contained in the above appropriations laws might be considered evil — like the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2005 (included in Public Law 109-162), which makes it a federal crime to annoy someone via the Internet — some new public laws are themselves downright evil. Public Law 109-13 makes emergency supplemental appropriations for the Department of Defense and the Global War on Terror. Public Law 109-114 makes appropriations for military construction. Public Law 109-148 makes appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006. Public Law 109-163 makes appropriations for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2006. Evil? How can spending money in defense of the country be evil? Doesn’t the Constitution contain the phrase: “provide for the common defense”? Who said anything was evil about Congress spending money to provide for the common defense? Very little of the money that funds the Defense Department actually goes toward defense unless it goes to the Coast Guard. And even then some of the money is wasted on the war on drugs. Is the war in Iraq in defense of the country? Is the war in Afghanistan in defense of the country? Is the stationing of U.S. troops in 155 regions of the world in defense of the country? The answer should be quite obvious.

And who can forget Public Law 109-160, which extends the PATRIOT ACT until February 3, 2006. This is pure evil.

Constitutional Laws

Even when Congress exercises its constitutional authority, like that of coining money (art. I, sec. 8, para. 5), what it does is tainted in some way. The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 (PL 109-145) “amends federal monetary law to set forth requirements for the redesign and issuance of circulating $1 coins emblematic of each President of the United States.” But is it the purpose of these coins to honor the presidents of the United States? Not at all. Minting these coins will “serve to increase the use of $1 coins generally, especially the u2018Sacagawea-design’ $1 coins.” And why does Congress want to push the use of a coin that no one uses? Because “continued minting and issuance of the u2018Sacagawea-design’ $1 coins will serve as a lasting tribute to the role of women and Native Americans in the history of the United States.” At least the coins will only bear the likeness of dead presidents — George WMD Bush’s face on a coin would be too much for some people to bear.

But there’s more. This new public law also requires the issuance of “bullion coins emblematic of the spouse of each such President during the same period in which the $1 coins are issued.” The “spouse coin” is to be a $10 coin. And then there is the provision for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial 1-Cent Coin Redesign, which “directs the Secretary to issue 1-cent coins during the year 2009, whose obverse design continues to bear the Victor David Brenner likeness of President Abraham Lincoln, and whose reverse design bears four different designs, each representing a different aspect of Lincoln’s life.” But then, after 2009, all pennies are “to bear an image emblematic of President Lincoln’s preservation of the United States of America as a single and united country.” Public Law 109-146 requires “the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.”

“Good” Laws

It doesn’t take the fingers on both hands to count the number of new laws that can be considered “good.”

There are three new laws that can actually lower the taxes of some Americans. The government lowering taxes is always a good thing — even if it only happens to some and not all. Public Law 109-1 is short and sweet: “Allows taxpayers to deduct in 2004 charitable cash contributions made in January 2005 for the relief of victims in areas affected by the December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami.” Public Law 109-73, the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005, provides “emergency tax relief for persons affected by Hurricane Katrina.” The third new “good” tax law (PL 109-135) provides “tax benefits for the Gulf Opportunity Zone [the Hurricane Katrina disaster area] and certain areas affected by Hurricanes Rita and Wilma.” We can only hope and pray that all Americans are allowed more tax deductions, more tax relief, and more tax benefits.

On the surface, PL 109-63 looks harmless enough: It allows “United States courts to conduct business during emergency conditions.” Specifically, it “allows federal circuit courts of appeals, district courts, bankruptcy courts, and magistrate judges to hold special sessions outside their circuits or districts upon a finding by a chief judge or judicial council that, because of emergency conditions, no location within the courts’ regular circuits or districts is reasonably available.” This was obviously passed in response to Hurricane Katrina. Call me pessimistic, but given the abuse of government power that can occur because of “emergency conditions,” I am not sure about this one.

The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2005 (PL 109-111) increases the “rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities” and the “rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans.” Soldiers who are wounded or killed fighting the state’s senseless wars could probably use increased compensation for themselves and their families. Of course, this would not be necessary if the U.S. military was actually engaged in defense of our soil instead of the invasion of other countries’ soil.

There are two new laws that relate to drugs that might be considered good. Public Law 109-56 amends “the Controlled Substances Act to eliminate the 30-patient limit for medical group practices allowed to dispense narcotic drugs in schedules III, IV, or V for maintenance or detoxification treatment.” I don’t know what all of that means, but it appears that the government is loosening, even if ever so slightly, its control over what physicians are allowed to do. The bad news is that the 30-patient limit is retained for individual physicians. Public Law 109-57 amends the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to “allow any controlled substance that is in schedule I or II or that is a narcotic drug in schedule III or IV to be exported from the United States to a country (first country) for subsequent export to another country (second country).” Yes, there are some stipulations and restrictions, but this law appears to loosen, again, ever so slightly, the control of the feds over drugs. I admit, it is a small drop in the bucket of liberty, but it is a drop nevertheless. It is not enough, however, to make me optimistic about the government ever ending its war on drugs, for Congress also came up with a controlled substance monitoring program for each state (PL 109-60).

Many people would take issue with my limiting the good new public laws to these few. A welfare recipient might think that laws which authorized income transfers were a good thing. Someone who lived in a congressional district that received some pork-barrel project might think that the new law responsible for it was a good thing. A person enamored with space travel might think that government spending on space exploration and study was a good thing. Someone who was concerned about malnourished children in poor countries might think that spending taxpayers’ dollars on foreign aid was a good thing.

What is my standard for judging these new public laws? My standard is twofold. One, the Constitution; and two, the Republican Party’s own platform. Every member of Congress must take this oath of office:

I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

And since the Congress is controlled by the Republicans, I again present what is written in their most recent Republican Party Platform:

Our leaders must make sure that the growth of the federal government remains in check.

We must maintain our commitment to free and fair trade, lower taxes, limited regulation, and a limited, efficient government that keeps up with the new realities of a changing world.

We endorse creating a commission to evaluate discretionary spending on federal agencies and programs to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used for the best, most efficient purposes. Such a commission would determine whether certain programs are duplicative, wasteful or inefficient, outdated or irrelevant, or failed. It would recommend to Congress programs that could be terminated, moved, or restructured to make the government more efficient.

The problem here is a simple one: the great majority of Republicans, including the president, don’t believe, and certainly don’t practice, what is written in their own party platform, and treat the Constitution as just a piece of paper.

The Conservatism of Republicans

Obviously, the frivolous, the trivial, the unconstitutional, the pork-laden, and the evil new public laws far outweigh the good. This is entirely the fault of the Republicans since they control the Congress. It cannot be argued that it is just a few “liberal” Republicans who are tarnishing the conservative image of the Republican Party. All one has to do is check the voting records of all the Republicans in Congress, including the leadership, and including especially the Republicans who tout their “conservatism.”

Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this. The New American magazine (a biweekly publication of The John Birch Society), publishes a “Conservative Index” that “rates congressmen based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, to fiscal responsibility, to national sovereignty, and to a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements.” The latest “Conservative Index” is the magazine’s second look at the 109th Congress, and was published on December 12, 2005, as the first session of Congress was drawing to a close. As in previous indexes, the votes cast by congressmen on certain key issues are assigned a plus (good) or a minus (bad). Scores from 1 to 100 are determined by dividing a congressman’s plus votes by the total number of votes cast and multiplying by 100. Thus, the higher the number, the stronger the congressman’s commitment to the constitutional principles just mentioned. The overall average score for the two indexes prepared thus far for the 109th Congress is also given.

A look at this index demonstrates yet again that the Republican Party is not the party of real conservatism at all. It is the party of interventionism, big government, the welfare state, the warfare state, plunder, compromises, and sellouts — just like the Democratic Party. Indeed, as Clyde Wilson has recently reminded us, “The very name of the Republican party is a lie. The name was chosen when the party formed in the 1850s to suggest a likeness to the Jeffersonian Republicans of earlier history.” Both parties desperately want to be known as the party of Jefferson, but I think he would be appalled at the actions of either one.

The last time I addressed this subject, I said that the results were shocking. It is even worse this time.

The average score in the House was only 30. The average score in the Senate was even worse — 21. Once again, the high score in the House (100) was made by Ron Paul (R-TX). The high score (if you can call it that) in the Senate (60) was once again made by John Ensign (R-NV), who was tied this time by James Inhofe (R-OK). Several representatives and senators were tied for the lowest score — 0. The Republican leaders in the Senate (Majority Leader Bill Frist [R-TN] & Majority Whip Mitch McConnell [R-KY]) both scored higher than their Democratic counterparts (Harry Reid [D-NV] & Dick Durbin [D-IL]), but what kind of conservatism does it take to score a 30? Ted Kennedy has scored higher than that before. The Republican House leadership did not fare as well. Outgoing Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) scored a 22, while Majority Whip Roy Blunt only managed a 20. The Democratic leaders in the House are ultra-right wingers compared to the Republican leaders. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) each scored a 40, as did the socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT). How many thousands of hours did you say that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Neal Boortz have wasted railing against the “evil” Democrats?

The type of legislation that would be passed by the Republican-controlled 109th Congress should have been clear from the beginning, for despite the conservative rhetoric, we also read statements like this in their platform:

President Bush and Congressional Republicans have provided the largest increase in federal education funding in history and the highest percentage gain since the 1960s. Support for elementary and secondary education has had the largest increase in any single Presidential term since the 1960s — an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2001.

This is something that all Republicans who claim to be conservatives ought to be ashamed of, not something that ought to be highlighted in their party platform.

When are the genuine conservatives in America going to wake up? The Republican Party is not the lesser of two evils, it is pure evil, just like the Democratic Party. Not in his wildest dreams could Lyndon Johnson have ever imagined his Democratic-controlled Congress increasing total spending or the rate of increase in spending as much as George Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress have done. And he too was fighting a war.

I can already hear the distant yelping of the Republican Party and its lapdogs, the neoconservatives, the “conservative” think tanks, the right-wing talk-show junkies, the Religious Right and regrettably, many independent-minded conservative Christians, should Hillary Clinton be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. Even if the Republicans lose control of both the Congress and the presidency, I don’t see how it could possibly make any difference. If people would ignore the Republican Party’s phony conservative rhetoric and for once actually look at their statist track record they couldn’t help but to see this.

Although they don’t do a very good job, the Republicans only act like real conservatives when they are the opposition party. Advocates of liberty, property, peace, and a return to the very limited, albeit imperfect, government of the Founders need to redouble their efforts to oppose the statism of both parties, and unfortunately, those regime libertarians and liberventionists who have compromised with the state.

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