Thursday, December 1, 2011

Do Nothing Congress? If only!

President Obama has been channeling Harry Truman and has been railing against the 112th Congress as a “do nothing Congress” in his bid for a second term. Some facts support the claim. This Congress (only half-way through their term) has passed 60 laws.  The 111th (2008-10) passed 383 while the 110th (2006-08) passed (460). The volume of passed bills shouldn’t be the barometer of a productive legislative session and not every bill that passes becomes law, certainly, but most do. The latest egregious bill dismantles “Posse Comitatus Act” that prevents the military from doing law enforcement on U.S. soil without an act of Congress.





The ACLU reports that the National Defense Authorization Act has two sections (1031 and 1032 in the 600 page legislation) that transfers enforcement powers from the Justice Department to the Department of Defense. Once passed, American citizens and lawful resident aliens can be held indefinitely and jailed without charges. Others can be taken by the military, without benefit of habeas corpus or trial…while on U.S. soil. Those captured can also be shipped off to a foreign judicial system. Congressed passed the Act and the Senate approved it on a bipartisan basis on Tuesday 60-38. President Obama has threatened to veto it. Don’t hold your breath.

Since the Justice Department will apparently now have time on their hands, they have proposed to Congress that any violation of a Terms of Service (those obnoxious multi-screen legalese forms that you have to click in order to do anything on the Internet) be reclassified as a Federal Crime.  Imagine this: a news story about extending the “Bush Tax Cuts” is online. I decide to be my clever self and post a comment that since President Obama extended them in 2010 he should really get some of the credit as they are now his tax cuts. In a rush I sign my comment via a short-hand family nickname – Coogs. In this scenario I will have now violated Federal law and could be jailed for ‘assuming a false identity.’ First Amendment? Pshaw. The Justice Department proposes taking a private legal agreement between a user and a provider of that service and take it over and convert it into a criminal issue. Who knows what else is in those Terms of Service that we violate because none of us ever read each one thoroughly to make sure we understand what we’re agreeing to. Congress has held hearings and is actually considering the change even though they have not dealt with their primary fiduciary responsibility by passing a budget.
 

Congress created the “Super Committee” on August 2, 2011 as part of the debt ceiling debacle that consumed Washington DC for the summer. The group included an equal number of prominent and distinguished politicians from the two major parties. Conditions were built into the structure that if they ‘failed’ then “draconian cuts” (less than 2% that don’t kick in until 2013) would give them no other alternative but to make serious and significant structural changes to the budget. “A once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to take politics out of budgeting” some claimed.


The committee deadlocked on party lines and disbanded having barely met but a handful of times. The failure is a good thing. To empower 12 people to do the work that the Constitution demands the entire Congress do was too far reaching and bad governance. They were also potentially making decisions without any public hearings or input from others – which is never a good idea and, if successful, would have set a dangerous precedent. In fact, the Constitution provides a “checks and balance” system which has served the country well for 235 years. Taking no action supports the claim of a “Do Nothing Congress.” Consider it from a different perspective. The 12 members acted by not coming to an agreement, allowing Government programs to continue to be financed at constant levels via Continuing Resolutions. By doing nothing Congress, actually agreed to $1.5 trillion in deficits through 2012.

What does any of this matter? If you haven’t done a crime then does it really matter if those who have are captured by the police or the Army? If you go online and don’t do anything wrong then it wouldn’t impact you if any violation of a Terms of Service Agreement is a Federal crime or not. Congressional inaction on the budget doesn’t mean the Government is going to shut down, it means that things will continue as they have been. Each one of these items appear innocuous enough – but they continue the pattern that is turning ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head. This fundamental principal of the American system of jurisprudence is what sets us apart in the world. The onus is on Government to prove a crime, not to have every activity classified as a crime.  Please, Congress, stop!  Do nothing. For real.

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