Congress on ’Roids

When they’re not interrogating baseball stars about issues totally outside their jurisdiction, or trying to intervene in the death of Terri Schiavo, members of Congress still have plenty of time to make a mess of America. Here are the low points of about 10 days of bad legislating in our nation’s capital.

Alaska Oil Drilling
Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) succeeded in opening part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, by a 51-49 vote.

The U.S. Senate sided with the banking and credit-card lobbies and made it harder for millions of average Americans to file for bankruptcy as a means to erase huge debt and get on with their lives. But, for the wealthy, the homestead exemption that places certain assets out of reach of creditors remains largely intact.

Federal Budget
Both the House and the Senate voted for a $2.6 trillion budget plan, which narrowly passed in the Senate (51-49) and in the House (218-214). The House and Senate versions are slightly different, but both grant still more tax cuts to the rich and reduce health care for the poor.

Iraq Spending
With the second anniversary of the Iraq War upon it, the House voted 388-43 in favor of an emergency spending bill for the war and reconstruction package in Iraq and Afghanistan without even a token visit by Donald Rumsfeld to obfuscate about an exit strategy.

Prescription Drugs
An amendment pushing senators to approve legislation allowing the nation’s health secretary to negotiate prices of prescription drugs for Medicare failed in the Senate, on a 50-49 vote.

Congress failed to derail White House plans to destroy the national railroad. By a 52-46 vote, the Senate rejected a bill by Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) to infuse the system with $1.04 billion.

Farm Program Slashed
In a blow to America’s farmers, the Senate voted 54-46 to direct the Agriculture Committee to cut $2.8 billion from farm programs over the next five years.

Family Services
The Senate rejected Clinton/Reid Prevention First, a $100 million proposal for family-planning services, sex education and contraception programs, by a vote of 53-47. It was Hillary Clinton’s gesture to make nice with abortion-rights foes like Harry Reid, the Democrat from Nevada.

Medicaid Cuts
In a rare flash of leadership during this dark period, the Senate voted 52-48 to hold off reduction in Medicaid spending for fiscal year 2006. It also called for a bipartisan commission to study how to fix the health care program for the poor.

-Christine Pelisek

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