Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

Appeal of the repeal

House Speaker John Boehner has urged the American people to judge House Republicans not by the laws they pass, but by the laws they repeal.

In other words, “undoing stuff” is the new “getting stuff done.”

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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But it turns out repealing laws isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. You can’t un-ring a bell, and it’s far more difficult to undo a law than to pass one.

House Republicans have certainly tried to repeal or dismantle Obamacare — they’ve passed 40 bills to do that. The idea doesn’t seem to be gaining traction.

One problem is that repeals can take a long time. Senate historian Don Ritchie recalled that the rollback of the Glass-Steagall banking law took the better part of a century (it was passed in 1933 and repealed in 1999).

The repeal of the Volstead Act, a.k.a. prohibition, took a long, dry 14 years. Adopted in 1919 to implement the constitutional amendment banning hooch, the legislation was undone by passage of the Blaine Act in 1933, which led to the 21st Amendment (hey, we’ll drink to that).

Though it may take years, Bill Galston, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, says repealing laws isn’t always a fool’s errand.

He pointed to the relatively quick repeal of the law Congress adopted in 1988 providing catastrophic health-care coverage for seniors, which led to a catastrophic moment for Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The law was unpopular with seniors, as evidenced by that famous video clip of the Illinois Democrat being chased from one of his own town hall meetings by an angry mob of seniors. Congress voted to strip the bill just over a year after adopting it.

What led to such a fast about-face was that the law was targeted, and it ticked off the very people it was supposed to help. “That’s the kiss of death,” said Galston, who added that he doesn’t think today’s health-care law will meet a similar fate.

Boehner’s statement, Galston said, isn’t really so odd.

“If you genuinely believe that there are too many laws and too much government, then you will likely reject the idea of being measured by a metric that presumes passing laws is good,” he said. “It’s not like a baseball score.”

Maybe we should stop calling them lawmakers? Perhaps they’re now law-un-makers?

Diplomacy on tap

President Obama’s big-money bundlers may be falling all over themselves to score ambassadorships in the nicer embassies in Europe, but there’s an under-the-radar diplomatic post that comes with some pretty great perks, if you’re into those sorts of things: beer ambassador to Lithuania.

That’s the unofficial gig that was given to Don Russell, the longtime beer columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, when he took a trip to the former Eastern Bloc country on a cultural exchange trip sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius. Russell, whose nom de suds is “Joe Sixpack,” now prefers to go by “Ambassador Sixpack.”

Russell tells the Loop that he scored the job through Lithuania’s honorary consul in Philadelphia, Krista Bard, who asked him to lead a tasting of Lithuanian beers in the City of Brotherly Love. Problem was, he didn’t know a thing about them. So, she helped arrange a week-long learning trip.

Russell figures taxpayers got pretty good bang for their buck. In addition to, well, drinking the bubbly stuff, he gave TV interviews, made appearances at beer events (including a festival in Pakruojis at which he and the U.S. deputy chief of mission helped tap the inaugural keg), and met with brewers — all in the name of fostering better international understanding. Beer has a way of bringing folks together. (There’s a reason for beer summits, after all).

In a column he wrote about the trip, Russell describes it as winning “hearts and livers.”

Russell tells us that everywhere he went, Lithuanians professed their love for America. And they even liked our beer. He brought examples of U.S. craft brews (from Philly breweries, of course), and the Lithuanians — generally used to milder brews — went crazy for the super-hoppy American pours.

Perhaps when it comes to international relations, a pint or two might be good for whatever ales us.

39 years ago this week

It’s happened only four times before, but it turns out the days of this week directly coincide with President Richard Nixon’s tumultuous, surreal last week in office in 1974.

It was on Monday, Aug. 5, 1974, that the famous “smoking gun” tape was revealed. The recording was of Nixon, six days after the break-in, conspiring with his staff to have the CIA ask the FBI not to investigate the break-in for reasons of national security. The revelation instantly cratered any possible chance Nixon could stay in office.

Even so, on Tuesday, Aug. 6, Nixon resisted, determined to go to trial in the Senate. He told his Cabinet that he’d listened to “miles and miles” of tape, according to an account in “The Final Days” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and hadn’t found “an impeachable offense,” so he was not resigning.

On Wednesday, Aug. 7, a delegation of top Republicans — Sens. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) and Hugh Scott (Pa.) and the House GOP leader, Rep. John Rhodes (Ariz.) — went to the White House to make sure Nixon realized he was facing certain conviction in the House and removal by the Senate. Apparently he did, and later that night he began working on his resignation speech.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, at 9 p.m., Nixon announced on national television that he would resign the presidency effective at noon the next day.

On Friday, Aug. 9, as preserved in the historic photograph, Nixon flashed a “V” sign as he boarded a helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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