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took control of Congress [in 1994], there was substantial aggressive oversightfor the period when Bill Clinton was president, that isalthough the oversight of policy was accompanied by a near-obsession with investigation of scandal and allegations of scandal. But when George Bush became president, oversight largely disappeared. From homeland security to the conduct of the war in Iraq, from the torture issue uncovered by the Abu Ghraib revelations to the performance of the IRS, Congress has mostly ignored its responsibilities. The exceptionsfor example, the bipartisan efforts in several areas by House Government Reform Committee Chair Tom Davis with his ranking member Henry Waxmanglaringly prove the rule.” Here I would take exception with the authors. While Tom Davis isn’t as rabidly partisan as previous government reform chair Dan Burton, he rejects Waxman’s requests for subpoenas far more frequently than he allows them. When Waxman, a liberal Democrat from Los Angeles, prevails, it is because he has assembled a superior staff of investigators that turns up information that forces Davis’ hand. While not as accommodating as the House, the more narrowly divided Senate also abdicated its constitutional responsibility. One of Ornstein’s Roll Call columns quoted in the book serves to illustrate the Senate’s failure to oversee the executive branch. Ornstein describes a May 2004 Armed Services Committee hearing at which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his generals testified on torture in the Abu Ghraib prison. As Rumsfeld was telling the senators that the Pentagon staff had prepared a thorough briefing chart, one of the generals interjected that they had forgotten to bring it along. “Oh my,” said Rumsfeld. For Ornstein, Rumsfeld’s “Oh my” response to leaving the critical piece of evidence across the river in Arlington defines the relationship between the two branches. “Could anything more clearly demonstrate the contempt this department has for Congress? This was not a routine authorization hearing. This was a hearing testing the very core reputation of the Defense Department and the military. And they forgot the key chart!” Another egregious example of the Senate’s failure to defend its position as a co-equal branch is the Republican majority’s willingness to abandon the filibusteronly to ensure that Bush’s judicial appointees are confirmed. The authors take on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who claimed in a USA Today op-ed that there is a 214-year-old tradition of allowing every judicial nominee up or down votes before the Senate. “Why should George W. Bush’s be treated differently?” Frist asked. The threat of filibuster unfairly kept Bush’s judicial nominees from being brought up for a vote by the full Senate. In response, Frist threatened to invoke what has come to be known as the nuclear option, using a straight-up vote, with the vice president presiding over the Senate, to challenge the filibusterthus eliminating it as a parliamentary mechanism that could be used in other circumstances. “Here was the reality,” the authors respond. “For more than two hundred years, hundreds of judicial nominees at all levels had their nominations buried, killed, or asphyxiated by the Senate, either by one individual, a committee, or a small group of senators, before the nominations ever got to the floor.” So we all now live with the Faustian bargain the Republican leadership of the Congress made with the president. Republicans on the Hill will do whatever is necessary to hold on to both branches, even if it requires surrendering the independence crafted by the authors of the Constitution more than 200 years ago. This new system of government divides power within the party, not among the three branches. The systemic failure of Congress is best illustrated by what appears to be a tacit agreement between it and the president regarding appropriations. Bush will not interfere with the porkbarrel appropriations the congressional majority requires to remain in power, and the result is what conservative columnists Kate O’Beirne and Rich Lowry have described as appropriations “incontinence.” The authors cite the work of Scott Lilly, who retired from the Democratic staff of the Appropriations Committee and is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Lilly has studied “earmarks”appropriations items individual House members controlin the highway bills enacted since 1956. In 1970 there were three earmarked highway projects. The number went up to 155 in the 1987 bill, “as many rank and file members demanded a piece of the action?’ After the Republicans became the majority, the number of earmarks and their cost increased exponentially, starting with 583 in 1992, increasing to 1,850 at $9.5 billion in 1998, and most recently rising to “a jaw-dropping 6,371 earmarks, worth $23 billion,” in the 2005 bill. \(Earmarks are not limited to 59 years there have been 9,242 earmarks:’ according to Lilly’s account. “Of those, 8,504, or 92 percent, have been inserted in the three highway bills enacted since Republicans took the House 10 years ago.” It is not by accident that George W. Bush holds the presidential record of one veto in six years. He accepts an appropriations process that is out of control as the price that two or three generations of taxpayers will have to pay to keep his party in power. The authors cover a great deal of ground in a book that is immensely helpful to anyone puzzling through the systemic failure of the Congress. Yet general readers would have been better served by more anecdotal illustration of their technical arguments. For example, they and Barbara Sinclair of UCLA have done fine work documenting the increased use of the modified open rule on the House floor. Lacking are accounts of how modified or closed rules have destroyed the deliberative process. When a bill comes to the floor under modified rules that allow no amendments, the minority and any opponents of the bill are irrelevant. Representative democracy becomes what Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank describes as “plebiscitary democracy.” The leadership writes the bill, and 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 6, 2006