Friday, August 1, 2008

"Madam Speaker, why aren't you here with the American public?"

That is what Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) bellowed on the floor of the US House of Representatives this afternoon. Brady was on an airplane waiting to go home when he was alerted what was going on in the House. The Democrats had closed down the House for their August recess, but the Republicans stayed on the floor to address the public gallery about energy legislation on which Nancy Pelosi wouldn't allow a vote. Over the course of the afternoon 50 Republicans came to the floor, with the lights and the microphones turned off, to address the public spectators in the "People's House." When the gallery was closed at 4:30, Tom Price of Georgia, the ringleader of the Republican stunt, invited everyone to the floor. The Capitol Police initially attempted to quell the rush down the stairs toward the gallery doors but when Rep. (name escapes me at the moment) enthusiastically exclaimed that everyone was being escorted by him, the Police yielded and hundreds of tourists spilled onto the floor and into the brown leather seats typically reserved for the priveleged few. There was no media, so this is the only place you will hear about this. I am still at work, but I will update later tonight.

So here's the story.

The House met on Friday morning to take care of a few last minute votes before taking their European-like five week summer vacation. The House convened at 9 o'clock. Before noon Speaker Pelosi had extinguished any hopes of voting on energy legislation. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer motioned to adjourn at 11:23, and the motion carried 213 to 197 (24 not voting). Overwhlemingly the Democrats voted to go on vacation rather than hammer out a deal that the American public supports. Their arrogance was later pointed out and it was suggested that since the Democrats have done nothing to help American consumers in a year and half of controlling both chambers, they ought to cancel their vacation just as many Americans have had to do in this tough economy. Somewhat ironically Speaker Pelosi promised lower gas prices when she took the gavel in January of 2007. Her innaction was mocked by the Republicans who "sat in" on Friday afternoon. They produced a chart comparing the rising cost of gasoline to some major legislative accomplishments of the Democrats. Accomplishments like congratulating the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team on winning the NCAA championship and banning the interstate transfer of chimps. To her credit, Speaker Pelosi pushed through an increase in the federal minimum wage. Now, this makes no sense economically but it is an honest and compassionate gesture, and one that Catholic social teaching would support. So we must give her her due on that one. But when it comes to issues that face the whole nation (and the poor disproportionately) Pelosi has been nothing short of a coward and an unimaginative coward.

Whether or not one supports the drilling and exploration plan of the Republicans, the important question is Why didn't Pelosi allow a vote? And the answer is simple politics. Nothing more, nothing less. Most of us who have read the Constitution understand that it is the job of our elected representatives to VOTE on legislation. The proposed bill should be put on the floor and there should be an up or down vote and the people should know how their representatives voted in order to make more informed decisions come November. The Speaker didn't allow a vote because the Democrats are running scared now. More than half of Americans now favor using our domestic resources to produce energy. While everyone out there, including Real Clear Politics, is predicting major losses for the Republicans in November, we should remember a few things: the most visible Republican in the country, George W. Bush, is polling ten points ahead of Congress in approval; and the Democrats are completely out of touch with the economy. If we dont see some obvious improvements in the third quarter, the American people should be smart enough to know that continuing to rely on the non-action of the Democrats--whose energy plan the Republicans mocked first with a picture of a Volkswagon Bug with a sail and then a mug shot of Jed Clampett--will only make things worse. Tack on the insanity of arack Obama's proposed tax increases and this country will become a very stagnant place. The housing bailouts will do nothing to help the value of our currency either. But the Democrats don't want anyone to know any of this. That is why they didn't allow a vote on Friday. Pelosi herself is in no danger of losing her seat, after all, she represents the same city that governer-defying, home-wrecking Gavin Newsom does. Her biggest challenger is...Cindy Sheehan. Yes the aggrieved mother who lost her son in Iraq and has a strange infatuation with President Bush. Mrs. Sheehan is something of a hero in San Francisco, but her political naivete and lack of financial backing makes her a long shot to unseat the Speaker. The Democrats real worry was that some of their less protected members would wither under the scrutiny of their constituents if they were forced to vote against domestic energy production. Joe Shmoe Democrat from Wisconsin stands little chance to keep his seat if mom and pop small business back in the Badger State find out that he values the pristine beauty of the Atlantic more than the fact that they can't afford to run their business anymore. Protecting the environment isn't bad, in fact a fundamental tenet of Catholic social teaching is environmental stewardship--the environment is God's creation too. But protecting shrews and field mice and other such insignificant creatures at the cost of human lively hood is beyond what most Americans can accept.

So in the attempt to protect her party, and thus her powerful role as Speaker, Pelosi adjourned the House and essentially told the American people that her book tour is more important than them and the democratic process that she swore to uphold.

As everyone filed out of the chamber, one man felt compelled to stand up for what he though was right, the opportunity to vote. The image of an old white man from Georgia arguing that the representatives have a right to vote conjoured thoughts of all the marginalized groups around the country who made similar statements throughout our clouded history of suffrage. This however wasn't hatred, misogyny or mistrust preventing a minority, a woman or a teenager from casting a secret ballot. This was the government of the United States spitting in its own face and hoping to wipe it away before anyone realized.

Rep. Price stood his ground on the floor and implored his colleagues to stay and hammer out a deal, he was given the backs of quickly fleeing members of all idealogies. Instead he took his fight to the American people themselves. The tourists in the gallery, who were treated to the rare treat of seeing all the members in the House at the same time for votes, were in for another treat--this one of historic proportions. The C-SPAN cameras were turned off as they normally owuld be when the House is not in session (why they remained off all afternoon is beyond me and I hope that some investigative journalists will dig up the reason why this event will never be seen by those who weren't there). Price began speaking to the tourists. The majority had the microphones turned off. Price began yelling to the tourists. The majority had the lights turned off. Price kept yelling. From 11:30 until 5 o'clock Price and his colleagues yelled to the tourists (and the GOP staffers like myself who happened to wander in). The majority, in a last attempt to silence the indignant Republicans, threw out the press from the Speaker's gallery. The Press Gallery remained open only because Price had convinced one of his colleagues to go up to that gallery and firmly plant himself there, much to the chagrin of the sergeant-at-arms. A member of Congress cannot be evicted from the chamber, thus forcing the gallery to remain open, unfortunately the media could not get back in and the only reporters remaining were the handful who stayed up there after the House officially adjourned. Even those media in the press gallery though were allowed no electronics. The only pictures that will ever be seen from this event may be those taken by members of Congress, who are the only ones permitted to carry cell phones into the chamber. With the microphones off, the lights off, the cameras off and the media ejected, the Democrats had crafted the perfect situation to squelch any news of the Republicans' act of defiance. But Price still had an audience of bewildered and emboldened tourists. To them he continued to shout and elicit applause (a big no-no when the House is in session). He asked that when they left the Capitol, they call their families and their friends and tell them what happened today. That the Democrats walked out on the American people and not only denied them potential relief at the pump but also denied them their due representation in Congress.

The various speeches that the Republicans gave alternated from serious and inspiring to mocking and comical. It's dinner time now, but more to come.

(Some say that drilling now will have no impact on prices for a while. This is probably true, but consider a few things. 1) The price per barrel of oil fell 14 dollars after President Bush announced that he rescinded the Presidential ban on offshore drilling. Why? Because the potential for a future decline in the price is enough to reel in some of the expectations of future prices. If oil in the future will be worth less, no one is going to pay more for it now. 2) If we are getting oil from ourselves, even if the price is high, at least we aren't funnelling money to our enemies in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, and to oppressive states like Nigeria. 3) Speaker Pelosi's self-proclaimed goal is to save the world. I mean, I appreciate efforts to protect the environment but the reality is that drilling in America would be much more environmentally friendly than that in other countries which have less strict standards for production.)


Anonymous said...

wow! being in the heat of it all- lucky we have you to report!
...and now im eagerly awaiting the follow-up

Anonymous said...

another point of view:

Tom B. said...

This is really interesting!

Thank you for posting, Brandon.

Kevin Donohue said...

The Republican party leadership has called for members to continue this revolt all this week.