POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Congress Owes Apology to Drunken Sailors

by David Trumbull

May 30, 2008

“Ronald Reagan used to say, we spend money like a drunken sailor. I never knew a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination of the Congress. And by the way, I received an e-mail recently from a guy who said, ‘As a former drunken sailor, I resent being compared to members of Congress.’”
—Senator John McCain, May 3, 2007

In the year that has passed since then Congress has been doing it’s best to make drunken sailors look good. On May 9th of this year President George W. Bush declared his intention to veto congress’ bloated farm bill, saying:

“At a time of record farm income, Congress chose to further increase farm subsidy rates, require the American taxpayers to subsidize the incomes of married farmers already earning up to $1.5 million per year, and expand government control over farm programs...Moreover, conferees inserted unrelated trade provisions outside the scope of the farm bill.”

Apparently, Bush got to veto the farm bill twice. The first time he vetoed it, Congress forget to send him a few dozen pages of the bill. As White House spokesman Dana Perino noted: “They've proved that they can even screw up spending the taxpayers' money unwisely.

When you or I print out the wrong version of a document and pass it ‘round the office—or even worse, to an outsider—it’s an embarrassment to us and to our organizations. When the U.S. government mishandles the text of legislation it is an embarrassment to every American in the eyes of a world that must get a great laugh at our offers of “technical assistance” to other nations struggling to implement democracy.

Of course mistakes can happen and this one was caught while it was yet an embarrassment and not yet a legal crisis. Nevertheless, I have to connect the dots. For years Congress has been passing—and presidents signing—laws without reading them. Editorialists and opinion writers at respected journals routinely make authoritative statements about bills they haven’t read. Perhaps it was just a matter of time until beltway rhetoric about a bill and the text of a bill compete their lamentable journey from legal separation to divorce. And as always in divorce, the kids—the next generation of Americans—are the ones who will suffer from the failure of leadership in Washington today.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]