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Too Many Rubber-Stampers in Congress
Published on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 by the Madison (WI) Capital Times
Too Many Rubber-Stampers in Congress
by John Nichols

Before Congress voted on whether to hand George W. Bush another $87 billion for the occupation of Iraq, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., went to the floor of the House and declared, "(We) are being asked to suck it up again, give him $87 billion, do not ask him what he did with it, just rubber-stamp it. That is wrong. Just vote no."

McDermott, a physician who served in Vietnam, is not a rubber-stamp member. He opposed the October 2002 congressional resolution that gave Bush a blank check to launch a unilateral, pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. And he opposed the October 2003 congressional resolution that will give Bush a virtual blank check to maintain the occupation that followed upon that invasion.

Unfortunately, McDermott was right when he suggested that a lot of his fellow members would simply get out their rubber stamps and approve the latest blank-check resolution. The Senate voted 87-12 to give Bush just about everything that he asked for. The House voted 303-125 to give the president everything that he asked for. The two, slightly divergent measures will have to be reconciled into one big blank check, but the bottom line is clear: Most members of Congress ceded their constitutional responsibility to place checks and balances on the president and simply served as rubber stamps.

How did Wisconsin's representatives stack up?

Democratic Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold joined the Senate majority in supporting a tepid and ill-thought-out amendment that might eventually require Iraq to repay a portion of the money allocated for reconstruction of the country. But when the big vote came, they both rubber-stamped the president's request.

In the House, Republicans Paul Ryan of Janesville, Mark Green of Green Bay and James Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls were all predictable rubber stamps. La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind was a disappointing rubber stamp. After voting for the October 2002 blank-check-for-war resolution, Kind became a serious skeptic with regard to the administration's rush to war. He asked the right questions and co-authored an important letter encouraging the president to consult with Congress and explore diplomatic solutions before going to war. Last week, however, Kind's skepticism failed him and he was, once more, a rubber-stamp representative.

The thinking members of the Wisconsin delegation were Democratic Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Madison, Gerald Kleczka of Milwaukee and Dave Obey of Wausau, as well as Fond du Lac Republican Tom Petri. Petri was one of only six Republicans to join 118 Democrats and the chamber's sole independent (Vermont's Bernie Sanders) in refusing to rubber-stamp the president's request for the $87 billion.

Some Wisconsinites may be surprised that Petri got this one right while Kohl, Feingold and Kind got it wrong. They shouldn't be. Petri doesn't make headlines very often. But he is a thoughtful moderate who frequently breaks with his party's leadership. He also holds the seat once occupied by the late U.S. Rep. William Steiger, R-Oshkosh. Elected during the Vietnam War, Steiger led the fight to end the draft during that imbroglio and was until his death at age 40 one of the most truly independent members of the House.

Steiger saw beyond the boundaries of party and recognized that, as a member of Congress, he had a responsibility to serve the national interest even when it required him to say no to presidents. Petri followed that same instinct last week.

In a House full of Republican rubber stamps - and more than a few Democratic versions of the same - Tom Petri proved himself to be a worthy successor to Steiger, and to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other founders who believed that Congress should provide checks and balances rather than blank checks.

Copyright 2003 The Capital Times


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