Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: What happened this week?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

What happened this week?

Let's see, is there some sort of theme recurring in political news over the past few days?

Today's Boston Globe:

Combined with President Bush's recent efforts to consolidate more executive-branch power in the hands of key loyalists, the GOP actions set the stage for an efficient legislative operation to process Bush administration objectives through Congress and then on to the White House for Bush's signature, analysts say.

''There is this kind of effort to convert the key policy-making institutions of government into one assembly line for the president's agenda," said Paul Light, a professor at New York University who specializes in government transitions. ''That's very unusual -- it's almost like running a large conglomerate when you have the [president as] CEO and the House and Senate as almost the manufacturing division."

Senate Republicans voted this week to give their majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, more authority in naming members of legislative committees, a power that helps Frist impose party discipline by allowing him to pass over veteran senators for some posts.

GOP colleagues also forced Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a moderate, to fight for the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, a post he is entitled to under Senate traditions rewarding seniority. Specter, who supports abortion rights, effectively sewed up his bid for the job Thursday despite opposition from conservative groups, but only after pledging to his colleagues that he would give all of Bush's nominees ''quick committee hearings and committee votes."

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are considering an official challenge to the rules that allow 41 senators to stop a judicial nominee through a filibuster, the tool used by Democrats to block some of the administration's judicial nominees. The proposed challenge would not affect other filibusters.

On the House side, Republicans on Wednesday protected their leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, by voting in secret to throw out the rule requiring legislators to step down from their leadership positions if they are indicted. DeLay has not been charged with a crime, but several of his associates have been indicted in an ongoing Texas investigation into corporate donations to Republican state legislative candidates.

Michael Franc, a congressional analyst with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said Congress is giving its leaders ''more tools in the toolbox" to approve the agenda of the Republican majority.

But giving GOP leaders more tools does not sit well with Democrats, some moderate Republicans, and some nonpartisan government watchdog groups. They say the moves are part of a pattern of rule changes that stifle dissent and threaten some of the checks and balances on government.

Some cited recent votes in the House to limit the kinds of cases federal courts can hear -- for example, blocking consideration of marriage legislation and laws defending the Pledge of Allegiance -- as a different type of assault on the balance of power, weakening the federal judiciary's ability to override the decisions of the president and Congress.

I see. So the administration rids itself of any nay-sayers, age-old congressional traditions are casually dismissed, long-standing governmental rules are being changed, federal courts are weakened, and power is consolidated across the board?

Well, looks like it was a productive week in Washington. I just can't wait for the 109th Congress to see what they can do to one-up the 108th! It's going to be exciting to imagine what new ways they can find to change the way government regulates itself with checks and balances. Who needs those, anyway?