Trial ties up Senate? Don't worry; Congress is irrelevant

USA Today

Virtually every member of the U.S. Senate knows there aren't nearly enough
votes there to convict the president and send him packing. The only real
question is whether the Senate, which is likely to open the trial today,
censures the president within a couple of weeks or the process drags on for
months.

Should we care?

If it goes on and on, you can forget Social Security reform or tax cuts. But
these were long shots anyway. Even if it were business as usual, the
Democrats would block any privatization of Social Security. And the
Republicans want to reserve their big tax-cutting crusade for the millennial
election.

Congress has been deadlocked for a year. Even when it had no
impeachment trial on its hands, the Senate did nothing. Why suppose that a
long impeachment trial would stop it from doing something else?

The dirty little secret is that both houses of Congress have become
increasingly irrelevant. The nation's business will go on, regardless of
whether there's a long, drawn-out Senate trial.

In case you hadn't noticed, America's domestic policy is now being run by
Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Board. Their decisions about
interest rates are determining how many of us have jobs and how many of
us get a raise.

When the Fed's Open Market Committee decides to lower the rates,
unemployment drops and wages rise. When they raise rates, it's just the
opposite. When they decide to hold rates steady, as they did last week, the
economy continues to move in whatever direction it was already going.

Congress is out of this loop. Every so often, some senators or House
members politely ask Greenspan to visit and talk about the economy. He
obliges by riding up to the Hill and muttering convoluted sentences that no
two people interpret in quite the same way. Then he goes back down to the
Fed and runs the country.

America's foreign policy, meanwhile, is now being run by the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), with some coaching from the Treasury Department.
Their decisions are determining the fate of much of the Third World. The giant
bailout they just engineered for Brazil, with lots of strings attached, will
decide whether Brazil slips deeper into recession and brings most of the rest
of Latin America with it.

Here, too, Congress has become irrelevant. Some senators and House
members fussed a bit when the administration asked for tens of billions of
additional dollars for the IMF. But in the end, the elected representatives
came through. They didn't want to be blamed for the global economy
collapsing. But they don't know exactly what the IMF is doing with all that
money or how it comes up with the strings it attaches.

And when the president decides to go to war, he no longer needs a
declaration of war from Congress. He just calls up a few generals, phones
Tony Blair in Britain and sends in the bombers.

Have you seen a single congressional hearing or congressional debate on
the U. S. Iraqi war? Senators and House members watch the bombs bursting
over Baghdad on CNN. When asked, they say they support the president.
But they don't know what the president is trying to accomplish over there.
Nobody does. And they would rather not talk about that.

In the old days, when American democracy flourished, we occasionally had
national debates about all these sorts of things. Senators and House
members deliberated over jobs and wages. They had great debates over
foreign policy. They decided whether the nation should go to war.

But that was then. Now they just shout at one another and hold
impeachment trials.

C-SPAN wants to broadcast the Senate debate about whether to have an
impeachment trial, and then broadcast the trial itself, if there's to be one. I
hope the Senate allows C-SPAN in.

But C-SPAN doesn't even think about broadcasting the meetings of the
Federal Reserve Board or the International Monetary Fund or the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. C-SPAN probably doesn't know where these groups meet. Almost no
one does.

And yet, these are where the really big decisions are made these days.

A long Senate impeachment trial might create some good sound bites. It will
supply a lot of fodder for talk radio and "yell television." But such a spectacle
is unlikely to be of much relevance to our lives.

It's too bad Congress no longer debates the things that count.

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