Easy Way Out

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006; 11:03 AM

But seriously, folks, has Congress become something of a joke?

Are these toothless lawmakers no longer capable of passing anything with bite?

Consider:

Folks on the Hill were desperate to demonstrate their deep concern about gas prices. So Republicans-- Republicans !--said maybe they'd pop the oil industry with a new tax. Then the industry howled. Never mind.

And how 'bout giving each taxpayer 100 bucks so they can fill 'er up two or three times? That was the GOP plan. John Boehner called it "stupid." Never mind.

Democrats want to investigate oil company price-gouging. Great. Will that produce another barrel of oil?

So the House cooks up some thin gruel just to show that it's doing something . (Not that there's much the Hill can do to get prices down in the short term, but everyone has to maintain the fiction that government can fix this problem, preferably by November.)

Remember lobbying reform? The Hill was so nervous about the Abramoff scandal that even Denny Hastert was talking about greater disclosure, ending earmarks and perhaps limiting freebie travel. Now that the Abramoff furor has died down, the leadership is backtracking on almost every point. The House passed a watered-down bill yesterday that contained such stinging provisions as ethics training for lawmakers. So members of Congress will be able to continue to stuff bills with home-district pork, often as a favor to the interest groups that finance their campaigns. Talk about a formula for corruption.

Remember when House Republicans were hot to crack down on immigration? That was before two rounds of major rallies that generated a lot of sympathy for those who are here illegally. The hard-liners don't like President Bush's guest-worker program, and on this issue, like so many others, gridlock seems to reign.

And that list doesn't even include long-term problems like Social Security on which Congress has already punted. Not exactly a profile in courage. (And as Dana Milbank noted the other day, Bush engaged in a classic Beltway stall when he promised in his State of the Union to appoint a commission to study Medicare and Social Security. But it's worse than we thought: He hasn't named any commissioners.)

Of course, there is one issue on which Congress seems poised to act: extending tax cuts. Whether you think that's a good idea or not, isn't it telling that the one thing lawmakers can agree on is handing out goodies as opposed any measure that involves the slightest sacrifice?

"The House narrowly passed a bill on Wednesday intended to restore public trust in Congress by reshaping the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists," says the New York Times. "But Democrats denounced the measure as a sham, and 20 Republicans voted against it. . . .


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