Posted on June 19, 2006 in Washington Watch

Just when you thought that Congress couldn’t be more stupid or cause any more damage, to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, “there they go again.”

As we have learned from past experience, in an election year, Congress doesn’t legislate, it plays politics. And this month has, so far, provided great examples of this irresponsible behavior.

Months after the fake debate about port security, in which Congress scapegoated Dubai instead of addressing the real issues that would protect US ports, it appeared that they might finally get serious. In April, they passed an amendment to an emergency appropriation bill that would have dramatically increased funding for Coast Guard operations and container inspection.

Last week, however, Senate and House negotiators deleted the $648 million in increased spending for port security from the same emergency bill. Thus, it appears that despite the heated rhetoric and the abuse hurled at Dubai, the fury was not really about security–it was political posturing. Points were scored and the game moves on—leaving our ports no better off than before.

One more example of this disgraceful posturing occurred this week with yet another fake debate, this one over the war in Iraq. In a brazen effort to back Democrats into a corner, the House Republican leadership forced a vote on a resolution linking a US victory in Iraq with victory with the global war on terror. Riding high on the killing of al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and yet another of the President’s “mission almost accomplished” moments, Republican debaters repeatedly goaded Democrats to choose between al-Qaeda or America. They repeatedly linked the war to 9-11, telling Democrats that if they voted against the measure their “cut and run” attitude would show voters where they really stood on the war on terror.

And so three years after the war began, with 2,500 US troops and more than 30,000 Iraqi civilians killed, with Iraq in shambles still edging toward civil war and with US prestige at an all-time low worldwide, instead of a real debate about the logic of that got us into the war and a critique of its execution, we were left with a charade and the game of politics at its worst.

Much the same can be said about the standoff that continues to plague consideration of immigration reform. While the Senate responsibly set out to reach a compromise that would both fix the broken immigration system and while providing a realistic solution to the plight of the US’s estimated 12 million undocumented workers, the House Republican leadership refuses to support any form of compromise. Rebuffing the President and the Senate Republican leadership, both of whom favor compromise, hard-liners in the House prefer playing politics with the issue. This, in all likelihood, spells doom for chances at immigration reform this year.

Maybe the lowest blow of all is yet to come. Having already passed an extreme measure last month that punished not just Hamas but all Palestinians entities (denying not only aid, but visas and even the right to maintain an office to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entire PLO, and even non-Hamas elected Palestinian Legislative Council members), last week some members of Congress positioned themselves to do even more damage. On June 6th, a bi-partisan group of members began to circulate for co-sponsorship a resolution entitled, “Condemning the Persecution of Palestinian Christians by the Palestinian Authority.” The bill, which now has 13 co-sponsors, is nothing more than a malicious act of incitement. While correctly noting that Palestinian society is in disarray and that the percentage of Christians in Palestine has dropped significantly in the past several decades, the Congressmen proposing the legislation absolve the repressive nature of Israel’s occupation policies and falsely accuse the PA.

The drafters of the bill acknowledge that in crafting their resolution they relied on the writing of an Israeli researcher working for a Jerusalem-based center founded by notorious Likudnik hard-liner Dore Gold. Palestinian Christians were not consulted, nor were any of the major religious bodies in the West with ties to their coreligionists in Palestine.

The reaction of both the Palestinian Christian community and the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leadership in the US has been a swift and strong denunciation of the dangerous, meddlesome and false bill.

Letters from leaders of the Christian community in Bethlehem to the bill’s sponsors, note that the plight of the Christian community is best explained by the strangulation of Palestinian society resulting from occupation, the 25-foot high wall built on Palestinian-owned land, the severing of Palestinians from Jerusalem and the theft of Palestinian lands for the construction of fortress-like Israeli settlement communities that have had a profoundly negative impact on Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike.

But even in the face of right reason and facts, it remains to be seen whether, in this instance, as in so many others, Congress, more interested in playing irresponsible political games with people’s lives, can be dissuaded from moving forward and causing still more damage to the Palestinians.

Given all of this, it is interesting to note that a recent poll of US voters conducted by Zogby International found that while President Bush’s job performance was given a low 31% approval rating, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were awarded an even lower 21% approval rating.

Maybe Congress should heed these numbers and get serious about addressing real problems instead of posturing and politicking.

Either that, or maybe they ought to just take a long recess–go home and not cause anymore embarrassments or problems before November.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

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