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Tuesday, August 16, 2005


separated powers no more

reason notes in passing that the president hasn't used his veto pen in some five years in power.

"There is unusual coherence between Republicans in Congress and the president," Professor Mackenzie adds. "So there's very little getting to his desk that hasn't been pre-approved by the Republican leadership."
are we supposed to believe that is an accident?

i myself can barely believe that there is still a debate among intelligent people about the independence of the congress. read what falls from the mouths of the republican representatives. these are footsoldiers in a presidential army and nothing more -- an army of ideology organized as a political party.

congressional money is now controlled by the president to a greater degree than at any point in the history of this society. there is increasingly little choice in federal patronage and simply nowhere else to go for republican patronage -- this by design. the republican party has constructed a conservative money monopoly from the ground up, beginning with think tanks in the 1970s, controlled on very hierarchic lines. so republican small fry -- and many financially-dependent democrats as well -- line up to hawk whatever bush is selling.

the core part of this effort is the republican cooption of k street, the nom de locale of the washington lobby industry. presidential operatives have successfully reconstructed the influence industry -- which brokers the exchange of money for votes -- into a republican ideological power center. (i'll quote heavily below from nicholas confessore's incisive washington monthly piece from 2003.)

The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer, are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP. Through them, Republican leaders can now marshal armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations experts--not to mention enormous amounts of money--to meet the party's goals. Ten years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the political donations of 19 key industry sectors--including accounting, pharmaceuticals, defense, and commercial banks--were split about evenly between the parties. Today, the GOP holds a two-to-one advantage in corporate cash.

That shift in large part explains conservatives' extraordinary legislative record over the last few years. Democrats, along with the press, have watched in mounting disbelief as President Bush, lacking either broad majorities in Congress or a strong mandate from voters, has enacted startlingly bold domestic policies--from two major tax cuts for the rich, to a rollback of workplace safety and environmental standards, to media ownership rules that favor large conglomerates. The secret to Bush's surprising legislative success is the GOP's increasing control of Beltway influence-peddlers. K Street used to be a barrier to sweeping change in Washington. The GOP has turned it into a weapon.
this is different from what the influence business had been earlier in the nation's history. professional lobbyists as we know them did not exist in anything like extant force prior to the 1980s -- whereas exchanges between unions or corporations and politicians had once been direct, political influence has since become centralized and industrialized by intermediaries in much the same way as lawyers have become an interstice between the people and the courts, serving as interpreters and liasons and granters of access. k street has become a community of ex-politicians and operatives who seek to remain in the game without the need for elections. and republican efforts, diligently attended by senator rick santorum and house speaker tom delay, have successfully made k street the home of ex-republicans.

Nearly 52 percent of Republican lawmakers who moved to the private sector since 1998 have registered as lobbyists, the study said. Only a third of departing Democrats took the same path.
coincident with the republican ascent to power in the early 1990s, some highly ideological repubicans took to war against the bipartisan pragmatism of k street.

In 1994, Republicans won control of Congress. All of a sudden, the Democrats' traditional power base evaporated, and with it much of their leverage over lobbyists. New Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, and a handful of close advisers like Ed Gillespie and Grover Norquist, quickly consolidated power in the House, and turned their attention to the lobbying community. Revolutionaries all, they nursed a deep disdain for K Street pragmatism. "They had a hard time dealing with lobbyists who were used to dealing with Democrats [and] were looking at ways to change this in the interests of the [conservative] coalition," says one conservative activist.

One way was to start ensuring that the new GOP agenda of radical deregulation, tax and spending cuts, and generally reducing government earned the financial support they thought it deserved. In 1995, DeLay famously compiled a list of the 400 largest PACs, along with the amounts and percentages of money they had recently given to each party. Lobbyists were invited into DeLay's office and shown their place in "friendly" or "unfriendly" columns. ("If you want to play in our revolution," DeLay told The Washington Post, "you have to live by our rules.") Another was to oust Democrats from trade associations, what DeLay and Norquist dubbed "the K Street Strategy." Sometimes revolutionary zeal got the better of them. One seminal moment, never before reported, occurred in 1996 when Haley Barbour, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee, organized a meeting of the House leadership and business executives. "They assembled several large company CEOs and made it clear to them that they were expected to purge their Washington offices of Democrats and replace them with Republicans," says a veteran steel lobbyist. The Republicans also demanded more campaign money and help for the upcoming election. The meeting descended into a shouting match, and the CEOs, most of them Republicans, stormed out.
those early efforts to restructure the private prerogative of lobbying companies recovered to flower following the bush victory in 2000.

In the months after, Santorum became the Senate's point man on K Street and launched his Tuesday meetings. Working on the outside, Norquist accelerated what he calls the "K Street Project," a database intended to track the party affiliation, Hill experience, and political giving of every lobbyist in town. With Democrats out of power, these efforts are bearing fruit. Slowly, the GOP is marginalizing Democratic lobbyists and populating K Street with loyal Republicans. (DeLay alone has placed a dozen of his aides at key lobbying and trade association jobs in the last few years--"graduates of the DeLay school," as they are known.) Already, the GOP and some of its key private-sector allies, such as PhRMA, have become indistinguishable.
so successful has this effort become, so restricted to republican routing has access to government become that the party is finding itself in a position to command action from indentured corporations.

Such is the GOP's influence that it has been able to marshal on behalf of party objectives not just corporate lobbyists, but the corporations themselves. During the Iraq war, for instance, the media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications Inc. had its stations sponsor pro-war rallies nationwide and even banned the Dixie Chicks, who had criticized White House policy, from its national play list. Likewise, last spring Norquist and the White House convinced a number of corporations and financial services firms to lobby customers to support Bush's dividends tax cut. Firms like General Motors and Verizon included flyers touting the plan with dividends checks mailed to stockholders; Morgan Stanley included a letter from its CEO with the annual report it mailed to millions of customers.
and, of course, the republicans can use their now-unfettered power over government finances to both rebuild governance along their ideological lines and reward these corporate backers for their loyalty.

Recently, as part of Bush's "competitive sourcing" initiative, the Interior Department announced that over half of the Park Service's 20,000 jobs could be performed by private contractors; according to the Post, administration officials have already told the service's senior managers to plan on about one-third of their jobs being outsourced. (Stay tuned for "Yosemite: A division of Halliburton Corporation.") But the Park Service is only the beginning. Bush has proposed opening up 850,000 federal jobs--about half of the total--to private contractors. And while doing so may or may not save taxpayers much money, it will divert taxpayer money out of the public sector and into private sector firms, where the GOP has a chance to steer contracts towards politically connected firms.

Anyone who doubts this eventuality need look no further than Florida. There, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out last year, Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, has outsourced millions of dollars worth of work formerly performed by government employees to private contractors. There's little evidence that doing so has improved state services, as the governor's own staff admits. But it has vastly improved the financial state of the Florida Republican Party. According to an investigation by The Miami Herald last fall, "[t]he policy has spawned a network of contractors who have given [Bush], other Republican politicians, and the Florida GOP millions of dollars in campaign donations."
this is essentially a reconstruction on a vastly larger scale of urban democratic machine politics, where total dependence and therefore total loyalty is the only measure of political value. in the system of absolute hierarchy that total loyalty engenders, the president thereby has direct control of what congress does in the same manner as mayor daley controls everything the city council does.

in the end, bush doesn't use the veto because he doesn't have to. the president, through the republican party, commands their legislative agenda from the white house by simultaneously controlling centralized influence peddling and the federal spoils system. when seen in this light, there's never been a clearer sign of the total breakdown of the separation of powers under our political system than the five-year absence of the veto. there simply is no difference between congress and the executive. members of the legislative branch work for the president -- breaches of fealty are vituperatively abhorred and will, in time, be punished.

frequent use of the veto can indicate an impassioned political debate between the legislative and the executive -- such as what fdr sparked with the populist new deal against the optimates of the old senate (and supreme court). or it can simply indicate a struggle for power between closely matched political opponents.

that we have seen no veto in years should be very frightening to anyone who believes government by dissent and resolution is the fundamental basis of a healthy republic. it indicates that, in the face of central money control, there simply is no meaningful dissent against the president's political, fiscal and military agenda.

that observation, taken in conjunction with and existing despite the fact that much of the bush administration agenda for the republican party and the country is so openly revolutionist, so destructive by design, is a clear sign that something is very, very wrong in washington -- indeed, that we aren't living under a government of separated powers at all, but have transcended republican government in all but name and empty procedure for a new, centralized, authoritarian system that is effectively a dictatorship.

UPDATE: how it happens is illustrated in this ap article regarding the bush administration's dogged and determined opposition to a legislative clarification of the american obligation to eschew torture.

The stalemate began in July when (Bill) Frist, R-Tenn., who shepherds President Bush's agenda through the Senate by deciding what bills get a vote, abruptly stopped debate on the bill. That avoided a high-profile fight over amendments, supported by (Virginia Republican Senator, Armed Services Committee member and former Navy Secretary John) Warner and sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., restricting the Pentagon's handling of detainees in the war on terror.

The White House had threatened to veto the entire measure over the issue and sent Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to press the administration's opposition.

Frist also was concerned that the extraordinary number of amendments proposed — more than 200 — could eat away at time needed for other legislation. An aide said Frist hopes that the bill can be completed but it must be done "in a timely manner and with relevant amendments."

The majority leader has resisted scheduling a vote even as other Republican heavyweights bearing military credentials have lined up behind Warner.

Well, Rome was a Republic for quite a few centuries before it wasnt you know... :-)

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i think that, whatever the truth is, mr anon, we'll continue to tell ourselves that this is a republic for decades to come -- though it is not acting like one anymore. much easier to leave the shell intact and refer to the whole apparatus -- constituion, congress, courts -- as though it meant something.

most romans of the caesarian period really did think the senate had real power -- and it did. it simply didn't retain the capacity to exercize it independently of the emperor.

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