Fire This Congress

Keith Frohreich

Keith Frohreich is a jounalist and frequent contributor to these pages. His most recent article described his experiences while helping to rebuild housing in New Orleans. He can be reached at

Regular folks get fired for poor performance, failure to show up, inability to work with fellow employees, accepting graft from suppliers, illegal acts, and exceeding budgets.

Against these standards, let’s measure the performance of this Congress.

This Congress is Tom Delay-trained-and-tainted. Just ask Republicans. Rep. Jeff Flake ( R-AZ), speaking to USA Today, said “We Republicans abused power badly over the past several years…we’ve created a culture that just breeds corruption…we simply have too much power.” Rep. Edward Souder (R-IN) candidly commented to the Republican Conference, “Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, and the ongoing disgusting saga of abuse of power and public trust are not just made up by the Democrats.”

There are nearly 34,000 lobbyists in Washington. Lou Dobbs of CNN wrote, “There’s no denying both political parties in Congress are now owned lock, stock, and barrel by corporate interests.” Yes, both parties are too tied to corporate America, but which party controlled Congress for most of the past 12 years?

Lobbyists, our shady, shadow government, set another record in 2005 with “reported” spending of $2.14 billion, led by the pharmaceutical and health products industry. The insurance and drug companies write our health care legislation, credit card companies write our bankruptcy laws, and oil and mining industries write our energy policy.

The always-quotable Newt Gingrich had this to say at a recent forum about this Congress: “Congress really has to think about how fundamentally wrong the current system is,” and further asserted that the American people need to “just start firing people.”

Gingrich joined former Speaker Tom Foley, along with Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein (authors of “The Broken Branch”),in identifying such symptoms as a collapse of committee deliberations, the demise of oversight of the executive branch, the loss of “regular order” of rules for debate and legislation, a runaway spending process, and a shrinking legislative calendar. This Congress will spend the fewest number of days in session since the Truman “do nothing” Congress, just 30 days the first four months of this year, and none at all in January.

Former member of the House Republican leadership, Mickey Edwards, said, “Congress is fading into irrelevance…” and, “When President Bush thumbs his nose at Congress…members of Congress mumble and pout and do nothing.”

The FY2000 budget surplus was $237 billion. At that time, most projections eliminated our total national debt by 2008. How times change. Bush, and this government, brag about the projected $296 billion deficit (as of mid-July) for fiscal 2006. Conservative economist Robert Samuelson wrote, “The Republican’s orgy of self-approval amounts to a campaign of public disinformation. It obscures our true budget predicament.” In his first five years, Bush and this Congress increased federal spending by 45%. Our cumulative national debt is now $8.5 trillion. Interest payments alone were $352 billion in 2005.

During Bush’s tenure, 73% of the new government borrowing has been from abroad. Who owns that debt? Think China, Japan, Britain, and offshore hedge funds. President Bush and Congress have now borrowed more money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 U.S. presidents combined.

There’s more pork in this Congress than all of the country’s state fairs. In 1996, the number of pork projects in federal spending bills was 958. In 2005, the pork projects totaled 13,997. Comparatively speaking, the previous Democrat-controlled Congress was downright penny-pinching.

Federal government contracting rose by 86% between 2000 and 2005, much of it without competitive bidding. Oversight is AWOL. Nine billion in Iraqi funds remains unaccounted for. Federal spending with Halliburton increased 600%. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton stock options’ value has risen from $250,000 to $8 million.

The buying power of the minimum wage is at a 51-year low. Since the last minimum wage hike (1997), Congress spiked their pay seven times to the current $165,200. Partly fueled by the tax cuts, we have upward income redistribution. As gazillionaire Warren Buffett said, “If there’s been class warfare in this country, my class won.”

As Congress idles in neutral, gas prices are nearly 100% higher than January 2001, while fuel economy continued its nearly 25-year stagnation. Detroit continues to lose money and market share. Plants and workers go idle.

The American Society of Civil Engineers just released its 2005 report card, grading our infrastructure a barely passing D (including a D- for drinking water). The ASCE calls our current policy “patch and pray,” and projects that our infrastructure needs $1.6 trillion over a five-year period. Maybe China will loan us the money.

It took six months for the leadership of this compassionate Congress to set foot in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Many believe that the less Congress does the better. Apparently, peak oil and the emerging energy crisis, the $8.5 trillion federal debt, the uninsured and lack of affordable healthcare, the oversight of the Iraq budget bleeding ($300 billion and counting), our dwindling allies and international friends, burgeoning Social Security and Medicare, homeland insecurity, our immigration impasse, global warming, the chipping away at civil liberties, the unlivable minimum wage, the shrinking and scared middle class, no-bid contractors like Halliburton, dysfunctional FEMA, and our crumbling infrastructure, aren’t problems. Who in this Congress is even asking questions?

Gingrich again, on this Congress, “I believe we are drifting into a cycle where the challenges we face are a greater mismatch with our potential solutions than any time since April of 1861.” That was the eve of the Civil War.

Fire this Congress.

c. Keith Frohreich 2006