Most members of Congress have ceased to function as serious legislators. They simply walk through the motions, collect their checks and then vote as the White House tells them they must.
This is not a complaint merely about most Republicans in the House and Senate - whose unwavering allegiance to even their president's maddest schemes mirrors that of Sancho Panza to Don Quixote. The Democrats are just about as bad, as was illustrated by their support this week of the administration's demand for another $81.4 billion to maintain the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
When the House voted on the emergency supplemental appropriation to maintain the occupation, the vote was a lopsided 388-43 in favor of giving the administration another blank check. Predictably, the Republicans split 226-3 in favor of the proposal. The short list of GOP dissenters included two longtime foes of the war, Texan Ron Paul and Tennesseean John Duncan, as well as North Carolinian Howard Coble, who says he is "fed up with picking up the newspaper and reading that we've lost another five or 10 of our young men and women in Iraq."
There were a few more Democratic dissenters, but not many. One hundred and sixty-two members of what is supposed to be the opposition party backed the president's plan while only 39 opposed it.
The one independent in the House, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, was the 43rd dissenter.
On the Democratic side, the Bush backers included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and most other key players in the party's leadership. Unfortunately, Wisconsin Democrats Dave Obey, Gwen Moore and Ron Kind were among those who joined Republicans in voting to give Bush a blank check.
Most of the Democrats who dissented were members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, along with white members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. By and large, they are veteran critics of the Bush administration's foreign policies. More importantly, most of them recognize that Congress is supposed to serve as a check and balance on the excesses of the executive branch - particularly when it comes to matters of war and peace.
No less a figure than James Madison warned that in a time of war the executive branch must be policed most closely by Congress because, as Madison noted, "No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Tragically, there are only a few Madisonians left in Congress.
Happily, one of them is a Madisonian both in tradition and in residence.
South-central Wisconsin voters should be particularly proud that their representative, Tammy Baldwin, was among the handful of Democrats in Congress who chose to serve as legislators, rather than rubber stamps for the administration. Her dissenting vote was the one that all serious members of the House could or should have cast. And the reason she gave for casting it was precisely right.
"Time and again the president has requested money to fund the war in Iraq while refusing to answer our questions about this war and provide a comprehensive strategy for bringing our troops home," explained Baldwin. "In our democracy, the Congress controls the purse strings, and we must make sure that our servicemen and women have the equipment and supplies that they need.
"Beyond that," she added, "before allocating more funds, we must insist that the administration articulate the conditions necessary to bring our troops home and push them to do that as soon as possible. The administration's refusal to address that is quite astounding to me and should be of great concern to all Americans who believe in accountability and checks and balances."
Copyright 2005 The Capital Times