Politics are apparently a higher
priority than intelligence reform in Washington. The U.S. House and
Senate are delaying serious work on bills implementing some of the
recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. The House bill proposed
by Republican lawmakers includes many controversial provisions,
such as expanded authority to deport immigrants and conduct
electronic surveillance, that the commission did not request and
that many Democrats oppose. House Democrats will be forced either
to vote for the legislation despite opposing many of its
provisions, or be cast as opposing intelligence reform. Because of
drastic differences between the Senate and House bills, it may be
impossible to hammer out a compromise before members of Congress
head home for fall recess. This is just the latest instance of a
disturbing trend seen this year in which President Bush and
Republican congressional leaders put off controversial yet vital
decisions until after the election, instead focusing on
insignificant wedge issues that promise to aid Republicans this
November.

In an election year, voters need to know where incumbents stand
on substantive issues in order to cast informed votes. This year,
however, Congress and the Bush administration have gone to great
lengths to avoid taking actions that could provide political
opponents with ammunition. It became clear this spring that Bush
would not seek funding for next year’s operations in Iraq
until after the election, for fear voters might question the
continuing high cost of a war begun for questionable reasons.
Despite publicly declaring his support for a renewal of the assault
weapons ban, Bush was content to watch as House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay kept a renewal bill from coming to a vote. Rather than
putting political capital behind his words, Bush can punt to
Congress any criticism for the lapsing of the overwhelmingly
popular ban while retaining the support of the National Rifle
Association.

While administration spokesmen and surrogates can make the
disingenuous argument that Bush has no direct control over
Congress, a variety of executive departments have delayed adopting
certain new regulations. There will be no action on a proposal to
allow the construction of roads in millions of acres of forests
before the election, nor on a change to wholesale telephone rates
that would increase prices to consumers by about 15 percent. In a
particularly distasteful case, the Food and Drug Administration
delayed adopting rules for animal feed that are meant to prevent
the spread of Mad Cow Disease after lobbying from the beef and feed
industries. Shortly afterward, the traditionally nonpartisan
National Cattleman’s Beef Association endorsed Bush for
re-election.

Instead of making the difficult decisions that elected officials
must make, Bush and Congress have focused their efforts on divisive
cultural issues, such as constitutional amendments banning gay
marriage and flag burning and a bill, probably unconstitutional, to
prevent lawsuits over the words “under God” in the
Pledge of Allegiance. The point of these efforts is not to enact
change. Rather, the Republicans seek to use their control of the
legislative agenda to force Democrats to cast votes that can be
turned into campaign issues. This election year has already been
marked by a lack of substantive debate on serious issues in favor
of smear tactics and wedge issues. Bush and Republican
congressional leaders are not only being dishonest to voters by
delaying decisions until after the election, but by avoiding
controversy for political gain, they are avoiding their real jobs
— running the country.

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