When House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the Republican Congressional leadership convened a press conference on the last Friday of September, their intent was to spin their record before heading off to the campaign trail. Instead, they found themselves answering questions about their deputy whip, Mark Foley of Florida, who had been sending Do-I-make-you-horny instant messages to Capitol pages. Hastert lamely denied the undeniable: that GOP leaders had known of Foley's creepy communications but had done nothing to protect his teenage targets. Calls for Hastert's resignation soon mounted within the GOP ranks, where strategists worried about what the revelations would do to turnout among the Christian-right faithful. Having abandoned common decency to stay in power, Republicans would happily throw their leader overboard if it would serve that cause.
Hastert's cover-up was in tune with the tawdry scandals and lassitude that characterized the just-completed session. Meeting for fewer than 100 days, the GOP-led Congress failed to pass nine of eleven appropriations bills for the budget year that has already begun. With House majority leader Tom DeLay and Representatives Bob Ney and Randy Cunningham going down under financial scandals, and the K Street Project's organized bribery under investigation, Republicans hit a new nadir--tallying more legislators disgraced than major pieces of legislation passed. Congress never got around to enacting promised laws to clean up its own act. Nor did it fulfill its constitutional mandate to check this lawless Administration--failing, among other things, to investigate the incompetence and corruption in Iraq that is turning a bad war into a catastrophe. How fitting that this Congress spent its last day dogged by new revelations of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's contacts with the Bush White House and the GOP failure to police Mark Foley. If sleaze is still a factor in this polarized time, the outcome of the election should be a foregone conclusion.
But no matter which party prevails in November, Congress will have to return after the election to face its basic responsibilities. That's scary news, since this crowd is even more dangerous when it acts than when it punts. The GOP majority frog-marched through Congress the President's bill to strip detainees of basic rights and rubber-stamp torture after the pious Senator John McCain considered his political future and caved. Its leaders brag about passing an energy bill that lavished billions in subsidies on an oil industry wallowing in record profits. The only action on immigration was to waste $1.2 billion on a 700-mile fence along a 2,000-mile border.
If GOP leaders had gotten their way, they'd have dismantled Social Security, permanently dissolved the estate tax, authorized the President to wiretap Americans without a warrant (or a reason), offered Big Oil more offshore drilling areas and trashed a good deal of what's left of wilderness areas. Now, in the lame-duck session, they'll pass laws that feature corporate payoffs, more tax breaks for the few and cuts in what's left of health, housing and education support for the working poor and the middle class.
Faced with lock-step GOP majorities, Democrats sometimes helped limit the carnage but--as when twelve Senate Dems voted for the torture bill--rolled over too often and fought too little. Indeed, there's more than enough shame to go around.
Republicans, however, have been running the store, and the only question is whether voters are going to hold them to account on November 7. The Republicans have more money for vicious air attacks and a better ground game. But no self-respecting voter can go to the polls thinking that this crowd--its leaders indicted or disgraced, its morals prostituted, its principles bartered away--should be returned to office. Corruption, torture, the fiasco in Iraq and, finally, the Foley cover-up. Enough is enough.