Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Frist Blames Democratic Minority for Do-Nothing Congress, Gets Spanked

How did Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) commemorate Constitution and Citizenship Day, when he returned to the Senate floor on Monday? In an odd twist of logic, he blamed the minority party for how little work has been done in the 109th Congress.

September 17, which fell on Sunday, celebrated the ratification of the United States Constitution and Frist used that occasion to announce that Senate Democrats are actually the reason that the last 20 legislative months have been proclaimed the "Do-Nothing Congress."

"Too often my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have inhibited the fulfillment of our duty," said Frist, after a stirring reading of the preamble of the Constitution. "They have relied on obstruction and thrown up roadblocks at every opportunity. They have let politics get in the way of sound policy and purpose. That is unacceptable."

Frist read a laundry list of issues he believes are important and that will be left on the back burner after the Senate's scheduled October 6 adjournment and urged Democrats to "…review our Constitution's Preamble, to consider anew our purpose here in the Senate, and to let that purpose guide our debate and action here on the Senate floor."

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has endured this Congress with control of no committees, an inability to pass any meaningful legislation and no say over the Senate's legislative agenda, was on Frist faster than Halliburton snaps up a no-bid contract.

"For more than 3 years, this Congress, which has been given the name of the "do-nothing Congress,'' has turned a blind eye to the intractable war in Iraq, ignoring the administration's many mistakes and allowing it to stay on a failed course," said Reid. "Here we are, with 6 days left in the 109th Congress, and the Republicans, who control the House and Senate and the White House, have not held one hearing -- not one -- into the President's wartime failures."

Given how little attention the White House and Congressional Republicans have actually paid to the Constitution in the last few years, I'm sure Frist was blindsided by Reid actually invoking that old checks and balances thing that schoolchildren all over America were probably learning about last week.

Reid went on to give the Senate leadership a quick history lesson on how Congress is suppose to work and how it indeed operated before the current crop of Bush rubber-stampers took over:
"During the Civil War, President Lincoln was faced continually with oversight hearings by his Congress. Of course, we know during World War II, there were a number of commissions. The most famous was that conducted by Senator Harry Truman of Missouri, which led to his becoming Vice President. Some say, but for that he would not have been chosen as Vice President.

"What was the Truman Commission? It was to determine what was going on with World War II. Was money being wasted? Were troop levels right? Korean war hearings were also held, and the same for the Vietnam war. But for this war, none--even though this war has taken longer than it took to settle the differences in the European theater in World War II. Soon it will be the same amount of time that we were able to beat Japan."
Reid then let loose the frustration that's no doubt been building after watching Republicans shoot down three attempts by Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage in this Congress and killing many pieces of legislation designed to bolster homeland security -- including the 528-page, Democratic-sponsored Real Security Act of 2006, which was snuffed by Republicans just last week.

"This Republican Congress has wasted 20 months on horse slaughtering; the Schiavo case, dealing with someone's personal relationship, which should not even have been before this body; gay marriage; the nuclear option; flag burning; repealing the estate tax," said Reid. "But they could not find a day for some time to look at the President's mistakes, missteps, and misconduct, which have hurt American security and plunged Iraq into a civil war -- not a day."

I guess you just have to call Reid an old-school kind of guy, hanging in there, against such great Republican opposition, with his insistence that the Senate maintain its mandated oversight of the executive branch.

But the real show-stopper came when Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Il) stepped up to the microphone to engage Reid is a dialog that must have had Republican teeth gnashing all the way to the White House. Here it is, straight from the Congressional Record:
Mr. Durbin: Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. Reid: I will be happy to yield for a question.

Mr. Durbin: Can the Senator refresh my memory? Was Mr. Bremmer the recipient of a gold medal or something from the President? Didn't he receive some high decoration or medal for his performance in Iraq?

Mr. Reid: The answer is, yes, he received that. I assume one would expect that from somebody who had a throne while he was over there.

Mr. Durbin: Isn't it also true that George Tenet, who was responsible for the intelligence that was so bad that led us into the war in Iraq, got a medal from the President the same day?

Mr. Reid: That is true.

Mr. Durbin: Did Michael Brown with FEMA receive a gold medal from the White House before he was dismissed?

Mr. Reid: I don't think he did. Even though he was doing a heck of a job, I don't think he obtained a medal from the White House.

Mr. Durbin: Apparently, these gold medals were being awarded for incompetence. They missed Mr. Brown, but they did give one to Mr. Bremmer. Will the Senator yield for another question?

Mr. Reid: I will be happy to.

Mr. Durbin: I am trying to recall the exact number -- it was in the billions of dollars -- that we gave to the President for the reconstruction of Iraq; is that not true?

Mr. Reid: It started out at $18 billion. But as the Senator from Illinois will remember, part of that money, stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills, was used by some of the contractors who were sent over there to play football games -- some of these same people.

Mr. Durbin: It is also true, is it not, that the Democratic policy conference has been holding hearings -- in fact, I think it is the only agency on the Hill holding hearings -- on this waste and abuse, this profiteering and corruption at the expense of American taxpayers and even, equally important -- more importantly -- at the expense of our troops?

Mr. Reid: I say to my friend, this war is approaching 3 1/2 years, and there has not been a single congressional oversight hearing on the conduct of the war. This war has now cost us, the American taxpayers, about $325 billion. There has not been a single congressional oversight hearing on the war.

Mr. Durbin: I ask the Senator from Nevada if he might comment on this as well: Are we not in a situation where the President has told us that he wants to "stay the course'' in Iraq, and Vice President Cheney, when asked a week ago, said he wouldn't change a thing in the way they have done this war in Iraq? Is it very clear that unless there is a change in leadership in this town soon, we are going to continue down this disastrous course, exposing our soldiers to danger every single day, their families to the anxiety of separation, and the taxpayers of this country to billions and billions of dollars more being spent that don't make us any safer?

Mr. Reid: I say to my friend, I spent the weekend reading a book. I did other things. I spent a lot of time on an airplane. The book is called "Fiasco,'' written by a man named Thomas Ricks who has spent his life covering the military. He has written books on the military. I don't know his political persuasion. This book is on the best seller's list of the New York Times.

In this book, he talks in such detail about what has happened as a result of the incompetence of this administration to our valiant fighting men and women over there. I recommend the book to anyone. It is a searing indictment of this administration.
Reid then thrust the final dagger on his own saying, "The war in Iraq has been a diversion from the real war on terror. But this administration and this do-nothing Congress are content to stay the course, even as it makes America less safe and Iraq less stable. We need a new direction. This Congress has failed."

At this point, I'm sure Bill Frist was sitting at his desk writing something along the lines of "Note to self: do not ... bring ...toothpick ... to a knife fight."

Update: AlterNet has the video of the Reid-Durbin show from the Senate floor -- go take a look. It's even better than reading it.