Rolling Stone magazine today released an absolutely awesome and epic piece that sheds light on how Congress really works - or doesn't work - these days (for an alternate link because RS's site is acting up, go here and then click on the story). The narrative follows four bipartisan amendments authored by Vermont's Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders (a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006) who the writer notes "is the amendment king of the current House of Representatives." That's right - "since the Republicans took over Congress in 1995, no other lawmaker -- not Tom DeLay, not Nancy Pelosi -- has passed more roll-call amendments than Bernie Sanders."
The magazine takes us on a one-month journey in which Sanders almost passed four separate amendments. We get an up-close and nauseating view of how Congress - which purports to be a democracy - now resembles a corrupt third world politburo. Only instead of an authoritarian ideological dictatorship running the place, it is Big Money that calls the shots on every issue.
What is particularly interesting is how these amendments actually passed by wide margins when they were brought to a vote. Yet, because the Republican leadership has hardwired ways to kill even the most well-supported bills, these amendments were ultimately stripped out behind closed doors. Consider the fate of just one of Sanders' bills - legislation to prevent the American government from giving taxpayer subsidies to a British-owned company to transfer nuclear technology to China:
The Ex-Im loan was a policy so dumb and violently opposed to American interests that lawmakers who voted for it had serious trouble coming up with a plausible excuse for approving it. In essence, the U.S. was giving $5 billion to a state-subsidized British utility (Westinghouse is a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels) to build up the infrastructure of our biggest trade competitor, along the way sharing advanced nuclear technology with a Chinese conglomerate that had, in the past, shared nuclear know-how with Iran and Pakistan.
Yet, even though Sanders' amendment blocking the money passed the House with broad bipartisan support, politicians of both parties - even the ones who claim to be "pro-national security" - felt compelled to kill Sanders' bill and allow the subsidy after a fierce corporate lobbying campaign.
The takeaway from this article is really threefold:
1) The U.S. Congress does not represent "democracy" and to say it does is to insult the word "democracy" and all of those throughout American history who have fought for democracy.
2) The problem with Congress is largely a problem with the corruption of the GOP. But, that said, the problem also involves Democrats, a powerful cadre of whom seem comfortable in the minority, and seem comfortable selling their souls to the highest corporate bidder. Unless Democrats really change, unify, and take up policies that challenge Congress's bought-off behavior, they will not be able to electorally capitalize on corruption.