Congress Coming Back (Ready or Not)

The 110th Congress’ stellar performance to date brings to mind the line a West Virginia governor of old reportedly uttered about his state legislature. As relayed to me by a somewhat reliable source, the gent said, “Our legislature meets for sixty days every two years. We’d be better off if it met for two days every sixty years.”

Just before the August recess, Congress managed to pass revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which Speaker Pelosi already wants to undo. The Dems plan some sort of Terrorist Bill of Rights, giving habeas corpus rights to the inmates at Gitmo and such. Before te recess, in its lowest moment yet, the Democratic leadership of the House literally stole a vote on the agriculture appropriations bill, overturning a vote Republicans had won and causing the most raucous outburst from Republicans in recent memory.

Congress returns Tuesday and in short order will have to deal with the Iraq report by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker, the select committee formed to deal with the Stolen Vote will begin to work and all of the work Congress should have been doing to govern rather than bicker — dozens of bills, including appropriations measures and the like, which haven’t been debated or passed — will still be stacked up on the back burners.
Last Tuesday, I spoke to Cong. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) about how Republicans will try to accomplish their goals in the remainder of the year. Here are excerpts from that interview.

Jed Babbin: The stolen vote on the ag bill seemed to strike at the very basis of our democracy. Now there’s going to be a select committee — formed at Republican insistence — to investigate what happened. Were you there that night? Was it as bad as it seemed to us?

Mike Pence: Jed, this will be an important debate and it might just be the abuse of power that precipitates enough public outrage to return these Democrats to minority status.

The night of August 2, 2007 will be remembered as a night of infamy in the House of Representatives. It was a night when I saw a Republican minority win a great victory for the American people. The Republicans brought a motion to the floor that would deny additional taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. But after Republicans prevailed, and after the gavel fell with a final vote of 215-213, the Democratic majority reopened the vote to ensure that illegal immigrants would be entitled to additional access to public assistance under that bill. This outlandish action by the Democrat majority precipitated the first walk-out in my seven years as a member of the House of Representatives. The outrage among my Republican colleagues was deafening.

JB: What do you think can really be done about it? What are the Democrats going to do to patch things up or at least quiet down the outrage?

MP: Well, the Democrats that night allowed essentially a revote, and allowed an overturning of the vote that was on the board when the gavel fell. In a prize fight, you can’t un-ring the bell and on the floor of the Congress, you can’t un-strike the gavel but that is precisely what the Democrat majority did, in a style befitting the imperial Democrat majority days of years past. They reopened the vote to ensure that illegal immigrants would be entitled to additional taxpayer funded benefits and I think the only proper course of action is for the original vote to stand. The Republicans’ effort to deny illegal immigrants more access to public assistance must stand. My hope is that as the Congress moves forward with a Select Committee investigating this incident, that we will bring the facts forward to the American people and ultimately see the Democrat majority reverse course and prevent this injustice in the legislative process and a great injustice to the American people from going forward.

JB: Is there an affirmative conservative agenda for this fall that you see shaping up?

Well I think your going to see Republicans in the House of Representatives really use the leverage that we have as a united minority to press a broad range of issues. Chief among them will be when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come to Capitol Hill on the 11 and 12 of September with their reports on the progress of the surge in Iraq.

I think you will see Republicans go to the floor, go to those committee hearings and go to the airwaves of America to make sure that the encouraging news that was recently declassified in the National Intelligence Estimate — and we believe will only be amplified when Petraeus’s report reaches the American people – is heard. Do we have a long way to go in Iraq? You bet. Is there a hard fight ahead? Of course. But the Democrat Party has invested themselves in an American defeat in Iraq. I think Job One for the Republican minority in Congress will be making sure the progress the soldiers are making on the ground and the political progress that could well be imminent within the Iraqi government reaches the public debate and reaches the American people.

JB: I heard that from another senior Republican that from the Democrats’ standpoint it really doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker say: they have already made their minds up. Would you agree with that?

MP: Well it certainly is hard to have endured the harsh rhetoric and the repeated votes for a reckless and irresponsible withdraw from Iraq that the Democrats have brought to the floor of the Congress the first half of this year and feel any other way. I can’t help but feel that we can anticipate that General Petraeus — as a NIE that was released last week indicated — will give us a mixed report. We will learn of some military progress on the ground, but we will also hear of challenges ahead and I would fully expect that the Democratic majority — invested as it is in a American defeat — will seize on whatever the negative aspects are of Gen. Petraeus’s report and simply begin to beat the drum of defeat and retreat again.

JB: I’ve sat in the same room as Petraeus and looked him straight in the eye. I’ve asked him some really tough questions and gotten what I believe to be are straight, honest answers. There seems to be a little bit of an undercurrent the in media and in some political circles to try to attack the general’s credibility. How do you react to that?

MP: Well I would take great umbrage at anyone questioning the credibility or competence of General David Petraeus. I have both studied his career and seen him in action on the ground in Baghdad. I’ve spoken to enough soldiers in the chain of command and retired ones as well to understand the extraordinary reputation that he enjoys. I would think it would be a grievous error for anyone to challenge the integrity or competence of this general who, if memory serves, was virtually unanimously confirmed for his position by the U.S Senate in the past year.

JB: We have the “earmarxists” still seeming to control the spending debate. How are we ever going to get control of this kind of wild federal spending?

MP: I think we just have to count with the leadership of people like Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn and Jeb Hensarling and John Campbell. We simply have to continue to expose the business as usual and pork barrel spending in DC under the Democrats’ control. I think all the credit goes on this issue to Jeff Flake of Arizona who has done such work of bring this practice and lack of accountability to the minds of the American people.

The spending bills that have been passed have not only been budget busters but you know we have seen Democrats get to a place in six months that took us 12 years to get to and I think the American people in 2006 said enough is enough and I expect polls being what they are that the Democrats could be in store for the same kind of public rebuke in 2008 for their wanton spending and earmarking practices

JB: Let’s talk for a minute about your big priority, protecting talk radio from the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” I think conservatives around the country are going to rally around that. It’s extremely important for the media wars next year. First off, tell me again what the goal of the bill is and — number two — tell me what do you thing is going to happen this fall.

MP: We introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act in early July in the wake of an amendment vote victory on floor of the House that bought us a one year moratorium on the re-imposition of the “Fairness Doctrine”. The Pence amendment passed by more than 300 votes in the House. But as I said it only bought us a one year moratorium in the FCC re-imposing the fairness doctrine.

So we introduced the legislation which would permanently remove from the Federal Communications Commission the ability to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine without an act of Congress. Millions of Americans are beginning to awaken to the fact that the next President could — with one appointment to the FCC — re-impose the Fairness Doctrine without passing a law and for millions who cherish the wide ranging debate that is talk radio, the time for action is now.

I am tremendously grateful to minority leader John Boehner, to Minority Whip Roy Blunt and to all of my Republican colleagues.. All 202 Republican members of the House co-sponsored the Broadcaster Freedom Act and so as we return in September our objective will be to build on the momentum, to reach out to our Democrat colleagues and to use every legislative tool that we have and public opinion to drive the Broadcaster Freedom Act to the floor of the House and work with our colleagues and partners in the Senate to see it to the President’s desk.

JB: Do you anticipate that the Democrats will even allow this to get to the floor? What do you think is going to be necessary to do that? Will it be necessary to have a big conservative push like the one against the immigration bill, to move the bill?

MP: I think it will we will only prevail if the American people demand that Congress take action to preserve broadcast freedom. I do not anticipate that the Democrat leadership will schedule the Broadcaster Freedom Act for floor consideration. My partner in the Senate, Sen. Norm Coleman, has now introduce this legislation as an amendment on two occasions only to be filibustered by the Senate Democratic leadership both times and when I brought my one year moratorium amendment to the floor of the Congress this summer, all of the Democratic leadership that voted, voted against even a one year reprieve on returning the fairness doctrine. I think the only way we could bring the BFA to the floor of the Congress is if millions of Americans communicated with their elected reps and those of us who believe in broadcast freedom use every legislative means at our disposal to drive it to the floor.

JB: So how will this play out?

MP: This is not something we’ve talked about to date, but when we return on Sept. 4, now having legislation that is co-sponsored by all 202 Republicans in the house and one Democrat, we will begin to formally request both hearings and floor consideration for the BFA. If the Democrat leadership refuses, then I would anticipate that we would introduce what is known as a discharge petition, which is the same legislative device Democrats used to bring campaign finance reform to the floor of the House a few years ago when Republicans were in control. If we are able to secure 218 signatures on a discharge petition, we could bring the BFA directly to the floor of the House for an up or down vote and unless the Dem leadership is willing to schedule the BFA in the regular course this fall, I would anticipate working closely with our Republican leaders that we would pursue aggressively recruiting signatures from republicans and democrats to see discharge petition process on this bill

JB: Who are the main opponents of Broadcaster Freedom?

MP: Ever since this issue first emerged this summer, there have been many powerful liberal voices that have been trying to tamp down public concern over the return of the fairness doctrine. I am absolutely convinced that the next Democrat administration, if given the ability, would re-regulate the airwaves of America with either the Fairness Doctrine or some new version of it. Anyone who doubts that should not only reflect on the comments made by Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Diane Feinstein, but also should read the report from the Center for American Progress entitled the “Structural imbalance of American talk radio.” That report — authored by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta’s think tank — advocates a whole new range of regulations that — while they would not specifically return the Fairness Doctrine would actually return a more stringent regulation of the airwaves. That would be an existential threat to American talk radio. I can’t help but feel we can’t say loudly enough to millions of American who cherish talk radio in its current form that this is a very real threat. Our opportunity to head it off at the pass is now. We’ll need American to mobilize as they did on the immigration bill and we can send the Fairness Doctrine to the ash heap of broadcast history.

JB: Congressman Pence, thank you very much.

The by-play on the Stolen Vote select committee will be very revealing. Unlike many “select committees”, this one was not created with legislative powers. And its first report is due on September 30, which is a very short deadline. But there’s one thing in the resolution creating the select committee that may prove the source of very interesting proceedings.

Buried in the resolution is the grant of subpoena power. That is not a trivial power. Revealing what actually happened around midnight on August 2 may well be what Mike Pence predicts: the cause of as massive a shakeup in the House as the 1992 House Banking scandal was.


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