Thursday, January 11, 2007

A first look at the first hundred hours

Bang! And they're off!

Maybe the newly minted Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), wanted to take Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural initiative to fix the Depression – his “First Hundred Days” -- and update it for the Internet days: her “first hundred hours”. Of course, we're not in a worldwide depression, Pelosi has not been elected president, and most importantly, while communication is much faster in 2007 than 1933, the deliberations of Congress are not. Praise God for that, I say.

In fact, much of what has been going on in D.C. the past few days is classically insubstantial. Yesterday, for instance, Charles Rangel of New York proposed a postal stamp to honor Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Pete Sessions from Texas meanwhile wants the postal service to promote Downs syndrome awareness. Daniel Lapinski of Illinois wants to honor the contributions of Catholic schools, while Charlie Rangel, again, wants to honor bluesman James Brown.

But Congressman Rangel also would “require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service” and reinstate the draft, as he has promised for some time now.

And in between efforts to rename the White Rocks National Recreation Area in Vermont in honor of Robert T. Stafford (per Senator Patrick Leahy) and designate the new courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, the “R. Jess Brown United States Courthouse” (courtesy of Rep. Bennie Thompson), Senator Harry Reid is proposing a bill that would hit churches and nonprofit groups with $100,000 fines if their website encourages parishioners to contact their congressman concerning, say, Darfur, without jumping through appropriate hoops. Who knew grassroots lobbying threatened the republic so?

And Senator George Miller and a host of cosponsors offer an increase in the federal minimum wage. Certainly this will have the additional benefit of promoting international trade – or hiring of illegal aliens as underground labor – since many union-negotiated wages will be indexed and rise accordingly, providing a temporary boost to the recipients until the costs flow back through the rest of the economy to them. The minimum wage -- it's not just for warehouse sweepers and burger flippers, nope.

Much of what has happened the past few days has been internal fluff – the reinstatement of the House rules from the 109th Congress, for one thing, and resolutions back and forth like the handshaking signals of an idle computer network. (“We're here! We're here!”) And it's not all the party in majority, of course. To be fair, Senator Christopher Bond moved that the judicial facility in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, be named in honor of Rush Limbaugh, Sr. for example.

Constitutionally, though, it is the role of the federal government to provide for defense – which, I must admit, Rangel's proposal will do – but only to promote the general welfare – which interventions like wage controls are very likely to negate in the long run. The effort to clean up the natural venality of fallen man in political life is righteous, but the – hopefully – unintended crackdown on the free speech of nonprofit organizations like the Family Research Council, Homeschool Legal Defense Association, or Central Baptist Church of Panama City, Florida, is not securing the liberties of the organizations, and more importantly, is interfering in the efforts of their members to stay informed of government actions.

As far as multiplying honoraria, redesigning the backs of quarters, and moving on purely housekeeping issues, well, they don't accomplish much, but they fall within the background noise of parliamentary life. So be it, and let's take a few more than one hundred hours to consider the sweeping nature of the bills that do have substance.

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