The debt ceiling law, now called the Budget Act of 2011, is probably the worst legislation enacted in a century. It is amazing that so few had Rep. Louise Slaughter's guts and experience to vote against it.
Slaughter, D-Fairport, politely called it "overreaching." In the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., cast a smart vote in the negative. Poised to run again next year, Gillibrand wisely saw that the legislation would be unpopular with independents and Republicans. She moderately said the bill is a sign that Congress is "broken." Smashed is a more apt term, or disintegrated between a pack of extremists calling themselves tea partyers and one of history's weakest presidents.
President Obama should have vetoed it. But as a politician first, last and always, why would he? The Budget Act of 2011 hands the president of the United States the politically enviable role of innocent bystander and commentator on all federal spending issues for the next decade.
The joint committee created to set ceilings in spending through 2021 is engineered for deadlock. Each party gets six members. Co-chairs, one from each party, will rule it.
All members of the House and Senate excepting these 12 members -- to be chosen by the end of the week -- will now be able to tell the voters that they had no choice but to go along with the decisions of the committee.
If the joint committee doesn't agree, or if the Senate and House fail to approve a report by the joint committee by Dec. 23, spending ceilings will be automatic.
The original tea partyers -- those passionate populists, those grass-roots reformers of 2010 -- got nothing. More than anything they wanted honesty and transparency from Congress. What they got is a 12-member oligarchy, most of whom will be hard-wired to the capital's richest union or globalist forces.
Worst of all, this dirty dozen is designed to operate in secret. The only place in the whole 72-page law where any of the committee's proceedings are mandated to be made public is when a final vote is to be taken on the budget cuts and legislative language is written. Then the language and the votes of the 12 are made public.
The law does not mandate public hearings. It refers to "any hearings" or "such hearings." The word public does not appear there. Whatever hearings or testimony or oath-giving are held depends on what "the joint committee considers advisable."
On the day Obama insulated himself by signing this disgraceful business into law, eight Republican senators filed a bill to ensure the committee's proceedings will be public. As of now, neither New York Democratic senator is a co-sponsor. There is no House companion bill.
The law waives all of the House and Senate rules passed since Watergate to ensure open meetings. If either House passes rules to govern the behavior of the joint committee, those new rules "would be considered merely advisory." How's that for legislative arrogance?
The dozens of standing committees and subcommittees maintained at massive expense "may" propose recommendations to the special panel. But their reports, including spending bills, which once carried massive force, may be totally ignored.
Senate floor debate on the joint committee's report -- if any -- will be strictly limited to a total of three hours.
If little else, this episode proves the so-called tea party has been totally co-opted by ultra-right-wing, vested, anti-populist special interests. The spending restrictions for the first two years at least are small, symbolic. Saddest of all, the key processes of government have slipped behind closed doors.
The only question remaining: Will the voters next year put up with this new depth of corruption?