The circus is back in town

I have lived on Capitol Hill for five years, which means I have always been able to get a view of the Capitol’s impressive rotunda by taking just a few steps from my front door. The Capitol Dome at night is one of my favorite sights in this city.

This past week, though, one detail in the dome has marred its beauty. After Labor Day, for the first time since July, the little light at the very top of the dome has been lit during the week. That means that Congress is back in town.

Nobody who likes individual liberty or who has respect for the Constitution can be pleased when Congress is in session. Almost everything they do results in more government, less freedom, and, eventually, higher taxes. The impeachment of President Clinton was one of my favorite things Congress has ever done, mostly because it occupied those guys with something other than passing dumb laws. The coming Supreme Court confirmation process will be similarly painless in that regard.

The laws that Congress passes are pretty bad. Just in recent years, they have created corporate welfare boondoggles in the form of an “energy bill” and a prescription drug benefit for Medicare. But the laws that are proposed and don’t go anywhere are sometimes worse. Amid the seriousness of the Roberts hearings and the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, let us take an entertaining peek at the file cabinets in the office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives and check out some of the bills Congressmen have proposed this year.

A reliable starting point is the file on Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.). Conyers publicly called George W. Bush’s 2000 election a “coup d’etat,” and since then has taken every opportunity to try to delegitimize the President. In 1999 he invited Michael Moore to the dais of the House Judiciary Committee during impeachment hearings. This year, Conyers has sponsored 23 measures–almost one a week.

On June 9, Conyers introduced House Concurrent Resolution 176. Resolutions are not binding, and therefore do not require the signature of the President. They typically honor some person or recognize some event (Conyers, for example, sponsored a Resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary’s of Rosa Parks’ monumental civil disobedience).

H. Con. Res. 176, however, was more peculiar. It was a tribute to Mark Felt, also known as “Deep Throat.” The measure would “commend[] and honor[] W. Mark Felt for his uncommon courage and bravery in exposing major Government corruption that warranted Senate Watergate Committee hearings and a House Judiciary Committee impeachment investigation.” Remember Felt was a dedicated sidekick of J. Edgar Hoover and was convicted in 1980 because he authorized break-ins without warrants.

Conyers also sponsored House Resolution 136, which called for the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct an in-depth investigation into how web writer James Guckert, better known as Jeff Gannon, was able to get daily White House press passes. This was in response to the shocking revelation that Guckert was a gay guy who used a fake name and wasn’t widely read.

Conyers proposed H.R. 40, which would create a commission to study and possibly recommend reparations for slavery. Another Conyers bill this year would open Medicare to everyone, including illegal immigrants, in the U.S., thus creating full socialized health care. On that last one, Conyers got 50 co-sponsors.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D.-Calif.) is far more ambitious than Conyers, as evidenced by her “Living Wage, Jobs for All Act.” Going far beyond promising health care to everyone, Lee’s bill would promise:

certain rights to decent jobs, income security for individuals unable to work for pay, a decent living for farm families, freedom from monopolies, decent housing, adequate health services, Social Security in old age, sickness, accidental injury, and unemployment, and education and work training; and (2) certain other rights relating to collective bargaining, a safe working environment, information on trends in pollution sources and products and processes that affect the well-being of workers throughout the world, voting and campaigning, and personal security.

Apparently, Lee thinks everyone would have whatever they needed if only Congress would mandate it. Perhaps she could add an amendment guaranteeing everyone could be really, really smart and sooo pretty, too.

As we mourn the passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist this week, lawmakers should study and emulate his lone appearance on the floor of the Capitol. When asked what he did while presiding over Clinton’s impeachment, Rehnquist told Charlie Rose, “I did nothing in particular and I did it very well.”

Tim Carney is a Phillips Fellow and a free-lance journalist in Washington, D.C.

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