Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Congressional Corruption: As Old as the Republic


Any Palinista worth his or her salt knows that one of Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's missions is rooting out crony capitalism and corporate welfare in Washington, D.C. Throw them All Out, by Peter Scheweizer - Gov. Palin's foreign policy adviser - focuses on Congressional insider trading, a practice that is illegal for the rest of us. Recall that a perjury conviction related to insider trading infamously earned home-making guru Martha Stewart time in the federal pen. Congressional insider trading is only one of numerous Congressional sins. In 1988, as the Reagan administration drew to a close, the Heritage Foundation undertook a five-year study of Congress, resulting the publication of The Ruling Class: Inside the Imperial Congress by Eric Felten in 1993. The Ruling Class is an expose on the inner workings of Congress and also suggests several ways to reform our legislative branch - all of which have been discussed, but none of which left the dream stage.


How Crony Capitalism Works

Gov. Palin has spoken numerous times about the federal debt ceiling. Ruling Class, Chapter One, which is titled "Sleight of Hand" explains precisely how the debt ceiling is raised automatically: House Rule XLIX (59). As Felten pointed out, the need to raise the debt ceiling is rather embarrassing. Not wanting to be held accountable for voting in favor of raising the debt ceiling, this piece of stealth legislation lets Congress do it without actually being voted on. Remember "deemed to have been voted on" - the trick some Democrats wanted to use to pass ObamaCare? Same principle here.

When the $787 billion stimulus was passed, Gov. Palin noted that many in both houses of Congress never read the bill. Many conservatives were likewise shocked when Nancy Pelosi declared about ObamaCare, "we're not going to know what's in it until we pass it." Actually, it's not shocking at all. This is routine practice in Congress. Our Senators and Representatives don't write legislation. Their staffs do it for them. Our legislators do not even read what was written for them either.

Ruling Class also outlined how Congressional hearings amount to little more than bullying to benefit a special interest group that successfully lobbied a Senator or Representative. Felten referred to these proceedings as a "Barnumocracy," and history is replete with them.

Another Congressional abuse is "regulation negotiation" or "reg neg," where lobbyists are directly involved with law-making. In a typical reg neg, the interested parties agree with a federal agency not to challenge a regulation in court. Felten described how Marriott Hotels strongly favored the Americans with Disabilities Act and worked to influence its passage. Marriott had already been designing its properties to be accessible for the prior 10 years. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act cost Marriott nothing, but cost its competitors many millions of dollars. Thus, passage of the ADA worked to Marriott's advantage. Reg neg is one of the underpinnings of crony capitalism.


The Commons, Spending, Debts, and Deficits

According to Felten, our current woes with national debt and deficit spending are rooted in how both parties conduct business in both houses of Congress. Federal budgeting works in a manner similar to pasturing cattle on public commons. Eventually, too many cattle over-burden and deplete the commons. Because constituents and special interest groups have grown addicted to legislative pork without paying their fair share, the demand for services only increases. The result is more federal bloat, over-spending, debt, and deficits.

Felten also revealed that spending "cuts" are little more than a Congressional shell game, in which the "current services baseline" is raised, then "cut." This practice is akin to a store normally selling an item for $100, raising the price to $150, then offering a special sale promotion of $125.

Felten also asserted that re-election has become a machine-driven process in both Houses. Felten even wrote about crony capitalism, only he referred to it as "the favor factory."


As Old as the Republic...

Congressional corruption is as old as our Republic and "...has no party, no ideology and no gender," says Constitutional Scholar Alan Baker. "It's bipartisan and soaked in history and tradition. It also often defies logic."

While it is theoretically possible to throw the entire House of Representatives out every two years, only one third of the Senate is subject to election in any given cycle. Incumbents enjoy a strong re-election advantage. "Throwing out" often becomes a case of "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."


"We're talking about a culture of 'I'm better than everyone else' and 'I don't have to answer to anyone,'" says Baker. "It is pervasive and it has been part of the Congressional culture for a long time. You may hear a lot of talk about accountability and reform, but it simply is not happening."
Even when a new member of Congress arrives in Washington, full of idealism about doing a good job, he or she is soon sucked into the system.

This could explain why at least two of Gov. Palin's endorsees who ran on a Reagan-Conservative platform are backing Mitt Romney. They got sucked into the GOP establishment. Why else would they back a candidate who has been running for over six years, consistently polls at around 22%, and does not appeal to the party's base?
Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power and Greed, by Mark Grossman covers all of it since there was a Congress, but at nearly $200, the book is not likely to land on many shelves. An abridged version is available as a free Google eBook.

The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals, and Dirty Politics, by Kim Long also claims to cover 300 years worth of skullduggery and at $14 is more within the average person's reach. Inside Congress: The Shocking Scandals, Corruption and Abuse of Power Behind the Scenes on Capitol Hill, by Ronald Kessler focuses heavily on sex scandals, before addressing other malfeasance. This is also an expensive read coming in at nearly $125.

Of course, crony capitalism, patronage, corruption, and scandals have infected the executive and legislative branches at federal, state and local governments since time immemorial. Tammany Hall ruled New York for over 100 years. I remember when Queens Borough President - Donald Manes - committed suicide while his huge corruption scandal involving the Parking Violations Bureau erupted. And, two generations of Daleys treated Chicago to a tour de force of graft and corruption.


Reforming Congress Requires an Act Of Congress, and More

Felten's proposed reforms for Congress included: term limits, the line item veto, session limits, spending limits, removing Congressional exceptions to laws passed, subject Congress to Freedom of Information Act, "end the Constituent Service Racket," establish fair and open procedures, and cut committees.

These are all lofty reforms. Unfortunately, reforming Congress in many cases requires - well - an act of Congress. Reforms such as term limits, the line item veto and subjecting Congress to its own laws likely require a Constitutional Amendment. President Reagan repeatedly called for a line item veto throughout his administration, but it never materialized. When Sarah Palin was Alaska's governor, she did have the line item veto and used it with telling effect. Subjecting Congress to its own laws would resolve the entire issue of Congressional insider trading which is what Schweizer delineated in Throw them All Out.


Gov. Palin's Role in Reform

Since the founding of our republic, no one from inside the political establishment of either party has been able to root out any of these abuses in the federal Congress. Will Gov. Palin be able to do it as an outsider private citizen? Only time will tell and history will be the judge over the many election cycles this could play out. Gov. Palin, of course has a proven record as a reformer throughout her entire political career. If she cannot do it, most likely nobody can.

The future, how Gov. Palin will pursue ending political abuses, and her very destiny remain uncertain. Conservatives - not just Palinistas - are yearning for today's Ronald Reagan.

Today's Reagan very much exists, but she is not pursuing a formal title.





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