JULY 26, 2004
With Americans fighting and dying for democracy in the Middle East, there's never been a more urgent need for a well-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which supports democratic movements around the globe-- including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Until recently, Congress--especially congressional Democrats--seemed to understand this. John Kerry says on the stump that "winning the war of ideas" is crucial to defeating terrorism, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who rose to prominence with her support for Chinese democracy movements, told a conference in April 2003, "We must address the real source of so much instability across the Middle East--the lack of freedom, prosperity, and human rights, including women's rights." Last fall, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution hailing the NED "for its major contributions to the strengthening of democracy around the world" and vowing "to continue to support [its] vital work." And, in his last State of the Union address, George W. Bush pledged to double the NED's $40 million budget.
But, in the House budget process this spring, appropriators agreed to give the NED a mere $11 million budget increase. Then, in a stunningly foolish vote last week, the House negated even that. By more than a two-to-one margin, the House agreed to siphon $10 million from the NED and put the money toward a somewhat less world-historical purpose: small-business loans. And, while the amendment was sponsored by the GOP's Small Business Committee chairman, Illinois Representative Donald Manzullo, far more Democrats (193) than Republicans (87) supported the measure. While several senior Republicans rose to defend the NED, which has a history of bipartisan support, no Democratic leader bothered. In fact, Pelosi hailed the move as "part of our Democratic initiative to help small business." But at least no Democrat sounded as moronic as Michigan Republican Thaddeus McCotter, who urged his colleagues to "remember that democracy begins at home. ... The continued support of small business, the perpetuation of their entrepreneurial dreams, is the seed of democracy, which we are endeavoring to sow throughout the world. Let us not forget them and turn our backs today." Alas, it seems we've already begun to turn our backs on the world.
OUT OF (GUN) CONTROL
In 1999, presidential candidate George W. Bush promised to uphold the national ban on the sale of assault weapons President Clinton had signed into law five years earlier. "It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society," Bush said at the time. Now, Bush has apparently decided assault weapons aren't so bad after all. The 1994 ban is set to expire in mid-September, and the administration hasn't lifted a finger to push for its extension.
To be sure, even gun-control proponents admit the law--which barred U.S. manufacturers from making or selling 19 types of semi-automatic weapons and clips capable of holding more than ten rounds--had problems. Gun makers could skirt the ban with a few cosmetic modifications. Still, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says crimes involving the prohibited assault weapons dropped 66 percent after the law was enacted.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told reporters that the president didn't even ask Congress for an extension, because he knew that "the votes [were] not there." But one wonders if the votes might not have magically appeared had the White House--which cynically still claims to favor the extension--decided that keeping the president's campaign pledge was a real priority. As Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat whose husband was killed by a gunman in a 1993 shooting spree on the Long Island Rail Road, told The Boston Globe: "Every bill [Bush] wants has gotten to this desk." An extension of the assault-weapons ban, sadly, won't be one of them.
THIS ISN'T IN ROBERT'S RULES
As Jonathan Chait points out this week ("Power from the People," page 15), last November, House Republicans held open the vote on their prescription-drug bill for almost three hours until enough arms could be twisted to guarantee its passage, an act Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute, calls "the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House." Now, the House Republicans seem to be making a habit of such tactics.
On July 8, they held open another vote--this time on a bipartisan amendment that would have scaled back part of the USA Patriot Act, making it harder for the government to obtain records from libraries and bookstores--for 23 minutes beyond the customary 15-minute roll call. The delay allowed the GOP leadership to cajole eight Republicans and one Democrat to switch their votes, leading to the amendment's defeat in a 210-210 tie. House Dems erupted in chants of "shame" and "democracy now"--they even clucked and shouted "chicken" at Republicans who switched sides--but to no avail. When it came time to adjourn, Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York offered the motion: "This House should adjourn in shame." But Nadler's motion was defeated, too. And for good reason-- by now, it's obvious the House Republicans have no shame.
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
In an article about the influence of Michael Moore on the Democratic Party ("Crashing the Party," July 19), Jason Zengerle noted that the filmmaker had recently boasted to Time about his warm post-movie reception from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, despite Moore's merciless lampooning of the senator in Fahrenheit 9/11. After attending a screening of the film, Moore told Time, Daschle "gave me a hug and said he felt bad and that we were all gonna fight [Bush] from now on. I thanked him for being a good sport."
But it turns out Moore and Daschle aren't so close--or at least not close enough to have hugged. "I know we senators all tend to look alike," Daschle told reporters. "But I arrived late to the film and had to leave early for Senate votes. I didn't meet Mr. Moore." Maybe this episode will shake the faith of Daschle and his fellow Democrats in Moore's other stories.
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This article originally ran in the July 26, 2004, issue of the magazine.