Capitol Hillbillies

More hype than actual reform

Amidst much self-congratulation, Congress after several false starts has succeeded in passing a bill tightening its ethics regulations. And if the new regs won’t terribly diminish the role of cash and lobbyists’ clout in the legislative process, they will make it a lot more transparent.

A retreat from the border

It’s occurring largely under the nation’s radar screen, but the National Guard is well on the way to pulling thousands of its troops back from the border with Mexico, even though there are not enough civilian officers to replace them.

At its height, Operation Jump Start — as the effort was named when it began in June 2006 — deployed about 6,000 citizen-soldiers from around the country to New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California to bolster the border against illegal immigrants and drug smugglers attempting to enter.

Failed Congress leaves town in disgrace

The Democrats who came to power with so much hype and fanfare after the 2006 mid-term elections limped out of Washington Sunday, battered and bruised from multiple losses to the most unpopular President in modern American history.

After seven months of failure after failure, the Democratic Congress compounded their many errors by passing a far-reaching bill that allows Bush to spy at will on Americans without court approval. All he needs is a sign off by his lackluster and flawed Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.

Congress caves to Bush on spy program

The House handed President Bush a victory Saturday, voting to expand the government’s abilities to eavesdrop without warrants on foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States.

The 227-183 vote, which followed the Senate’s approval Friday, sends the bill to Bush for his signature.

Late Saturday, Bush said, “The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, has assured me that this bill gives him what he needs to continue to protect the country, and therefore I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk.”

Senate caves in to Bush demands

The Senate, in a high-stakes showdown over national security, voted late Friday to temporarily give President Bush expanded authority to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists without court warrants. The House, meanwhile, rejected a Democratic version of the bill.

Democratic leaders there were working on a plan to bring up the Senate-passed measure and vote on it Saturday in response to Bush’s demand that Congress give him expanded powers before leaving for vacation this weekend.

The White House applauded the Senate vote and urged the House to quickly follow suit.

House passes ethics reform

The US Senate on Thursday passed what its Democratic leaders proclaimed as the most sweeping law regulating lobbying and lawmakers’ conduct in history, following a string of political scandals.

But Republicans, who lost control of Congress last year partly due to a clutch of ethics questions, complained the bill, which has already passed by the House of Representatives, did not go far enough.

More trouble for Ted Stevens

A Senate aide who handled Sen. Ted Stevens’ personal bills did not report any payments from his personal funds, raising questions about whether the two violated gift restrictions or federal law.

Barbara Flanders, a financial clerk at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is cooperating in a corruption investigation of the lawmaker. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Flanders is cooperating in the probe of Stevens’ dealings with a wealthy Alaska contractor.

Finding justice or a scapegoat?

An old soldier once remarked that combining the words “military” and “justice” produces an oxymoron that is more aimed at finding a scapegoat to protect the particular service and those at its highest levels than producing any semblance of fairness. But when the spotlight gets too hot someone has to be found to pay for the damage, and all bets are off about whom that might be.

People got court-martialed because of Pearl Harbor — many and not the right ones, but enough to satisfy the scapegoat rule.

Don’t leave the children behind

The 5-year-old No Child Left Behind Act is relatively simple as federal laws go. School districts must test their students annually in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. And they must show improving proficiency across all demographic groups, with the perhaps-unreachable aim of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

We have good…er bad…news

It’s tough being a member of Congress. Even if you’re in the majority, as is Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda of Kansas, you never know when your ears may be assaulted by outrageous and offensive ideas.

Like what? At a recent hearing of the Armed Services Committee, retired Gen. Jack Keane said “progress is being made” by U.S. military forces in Iraq; “We are on the offensive and we have the momentum,” he added. The freshman congresswoman was so distressed by these remarks that she got up and walked out.