Wednesday, July 25, 2007. 6:15 PM Eastern Time.
Sitting in on Congress
After a tour of the Capitol building we went to Tom Tancredo's office and got free tickets to the Congress Visitor's Gallery. For a couple of hours Mark, Jonathan and I watched the thirty or so members of the House of Representatives who were present debate a spending bill.
Actually, there wasn't a whole lot of debate going on. The bill concerned appropriations for law enforcement and investments in science and research. For some time, one member after another rose, thanked all the committee members he had worked with (or hadn't) and praised the amount of money being allotted to such-and-such a cause, which he said was very important.
One man stood up and began an eloquent and ponderous oration on the necessity of spending generously in this bill. Cutting funds, he said, would save money now but cost us in crime and a stagnant economy in the long run. No one cared what the man was saying; every portion of the budget was being increased anyway, and nobody had proposed any cuts so far. The man's time ran out and he stopped short.
Another man walked up to the podium and burst forth in a glorious blaze of passion and enthusiasm. Th U.S., he declared, has more incarcerated persons than any other free nation, and we needed to fix that problem. This bill was the perfect thing - it focused attention (i.e. money) on juvenile programs to prevent crimes fbefore they happened. Rah, rah, rah! Then this man's time ran out too, his fire vanished in a puff o smoke, and he walked out of the room. A solitary member clapped for him as he left.
Finally, one member (we'll call him A) brought in a bit of controversy. The Chinese, he said, were violating trade regulations. Counterfeit auto parts had cost the US 750,000 jobs, contaminated pet food had killed animals, and defective toothpaste had already been sold. His proposed solution (surprise!) involved money. Why not take $6 million from the census budget and put it into trade enforcement?
Another representative (Mr. B) replied that 1) the trade problem had sufficient funding already and was being tackled by American transportation companies, and 2) that the census was essential, the only part of the bill mandated by the Constitution.
Mr. A got up again, countering that $6 million was a small amount of money, and fair trade was extremely important to our economy.
Mr. B said that the census provides essential economic data, needed by firms.
Mr. C said that a larger issue was at hand, and it should be dealt with separately. $6 million was indeed a small amount of money - too small to make a difference in trade regulation enforcement anyway.
The proposal was voted on by roll call, and rejected.
Thursday, July 26, 2007. 7:30 PM Eastern Time.
Today we relaxed and took it easy. In the afternoon we saw the Post Office Museum and toured the Voice of America headquarters. They were both fun to visit, but didn't leave much to write about.