“I made some decissions [sic] Ill be sorry for the rest of my life.”

Soeth wrote Randy “Duke” Cunningham from prison to the reporter who busted him. But the sentiment as well as the penmanship might as well stand as the epithet of the Worst Congress Ever. That or this quote:

“The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment,” says Jonathan Turley, a noted constitutional scholar and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Matt Taibbi has become a Rolling Stone regular, and I couldn’t be happier.

Taibbi was a writer – indeed, a lone liberal columnist – for the New York Press, which was always predominantly the New York Post of Village Voices. As Taibbi explains in this interview, the paper was started and later tyrannized by its signature columnist “Mugger”, aka Russ Smith. Or so Taibbi says. I haven’t read NYP in a year, but it was always the free version of the other NYP to me. In the interview, however, you can read about all the fun Taibbi has, including working on the Russian expat magazine eXile and throwing a pie full of horse semen in the face of New York Times’ Russia correspondent Michael Wines (Ivan: please do opine). He also followed John Kerry’s campaign in a gorilla suit and interviewed the Director of National Drug Policy while on acid and wearing a Vikings hat. In short, he’s alot more fun than CNNs’ Candy Crowley (see interview). Taibbi recently earned my respect again for his column on Thomas Friedman entitled Flathead, in which he brutally fisked Friedman’s grasp of the English language in The World is Flat. To wit:

we are meant to understand that the flat world is a giant ice-cream sundae that is more beef than sizzle, in which everyone can fit his hose into his fire hydrant, and in which most but not all of us are covered with a mostly good special sauce. Moreover, Friedman’s book is the first I have encountered, anywhere, in which the reader needs a calculator to figure the value of the author’s metaphors.

Taibbi’s debut at Rolling Stone, however, is also his return to “journalism” as opposed to “column writing” – though being Rolling Stone, it’s really in between. But the facts do floweth on the 109th Congress:

“I remember one incident very clearly — I think it was 2001,” says Winslow Wheeler, who served for twenty-two years as a Republican staffer in the Senate. “I was working for [New Mexico Republican] Pete Domenici at the time. We were in a Budget Committee hearing and the Democrats were debating what the final result would be. And my boss gets up and he says, ‘Why are you saying this? You’re not even going to be in the room when the decisions are made.’ Just said it right out in the open.”


The GOP’s “take that, bitch” approach to governing has been taken to the greatest heights by the House Judiciary Committee. The committee is chaired by the legendary Republican monster James Sensenbrenner Jr., an ever-sweating, fat-fingered beast who wields his gavel in a way that makes you think he might have used one before in some other arena, perhaps to beat prostitutes to death. Last year, Sensenbrenner became apoplectic when Democrats who wanted to hold a hearing on the Patriot Act invoked a little-known rule that required him to let them have one.

“Naturally, he scheduled it for something like 9 a.m. on a Friday when Congress wasn’t in session, hoping that no one would show,” recalls a Democratic staffer who attended the hearing. “But we got a pretty good turnout anyway.”

Sensenbrenner kept trying to gavel the hearing to a close, but Democrats again pointed to the rules, which said they had a certain amount of time to examine their witnesses. When they refused to stop the proceedings, the chairman did something unprecedented: He simply picked up his gavel and walked out.

“He was like a kid at the playground,” the staffer says. And just in case anyone missed the point, Sensenbrenner shut off the lights and cut the microphones on his way out of the room.


But in the Bush years, Republicans have managed the conference issue with some of the most mind-blowingly juvenile behavior seen in any parliament west of the Russian Duma after happy hour. GOP chairmen routinely call a meeting, bring the press in for a photo op and then promptly shut the proceedings down. “Take a picture, wait five minutes, gavel it out — all for show” is how one Democratic staffer described the process. Then, amazingly, the Republicans sneak off to hold the real conference, forcing the Democrats to turn amateur detective and go searching the Capitol grounds for the meeting. “More often than not, we’re trying to figure out where the conference is,” says one House aide.

In one legendary incident, Rep. Charles Rangel went searching for a secret conference being held by Thomas. When he found the room where Republicans closeted themselves, he knocked and knocked on the door, but no one answered. A House aide compares the scene to the famous “Land Shark” skit from Saturday Night Live, with everyone hiding behind the door afraid to make a sound. “Rangel was the land shark, I guess,” the aide jokes. But the real punch line came when Thomas finally opened the door. “This meeting,” he informed Rangel, “is only open to the coalition of the willing.”


In the Sixties and Seventies, Congress met an average of 162 days a year. In the Eighties and Nineties, the average went down to 139 days. This year, the second session of the 109th Congress will set the all-time record for fewest days worked by a U.S. Congress: ninety-three. That means that House members will collect their $165,000 paychecks for only three months of actual work.

What this means is that the current Congress will not only beat but shatter the record for laziness set by the notorious “Do-Nothing” Congress of 1948, which met for a combined 252 days between the House and the Senate. This Congress — the Do-Even-Less Congress — met for 218 days, just over half a year, between the House and the Senate combined.


A few years ago, when Democratic staffers in the Senate were frantically poring over a massive Omnibus bill they had been handed the night before the scheduled vote, they discovered a tiny provision that had not been in any of the previous versions. The item would have given senators on the Appropriations Committee access to the private records of any taxpayer — essentially endowing a few selected hacks in the Senate with the license to snoop into the private financial information of all Americans.

“We were like, ‘What the hell is this?’ ?says one Democratic aide familiar with the incident. “It was the most egregious thing imaginable. It was just lucky we caught them.”

And that ain’t even half of it. One more:

“You talk to many Republicans in Congress privately, and they will tell you how appalled they are by the administration’s diminishment of civil liberties and the constant effort to keep fear alive,” says Turley, who testified as a constitutional scholar in favor of the Clinton impeachment. “Yet those same members slavishly vote with the White House. What’s most alarming about the 109th has been the massive erosion of authority in Congress. There has always been partisanship, but this is different. Members have become robotic in the way they vote.”

But all this underscores the real issue: if the Republicans have gone this far, whither bipartisan respect, which made the system workable in the first place? And how, if ever, do we get it back? In a side post, Taibbi gives reason to think we won’t.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

I guess the only good news is that the people are finally wising up. There is, acording to friends of mine who still choose to live in the motherland, a sense of fatigue and revulsion with the slimeballs who represent us, with Republicans garnering the lion’s share. Of course, this revulsion should have come way earlier and it’s still not enough to end the GOP majority in the senate, but it offers some rays of hope. There’s a breaking point, and after all the lies and sins and BS, from Jack Abramoff to Iraq to Abu Ghraib to a curtailed Bill of Rights to shameless cronyism to Katrina, there was finally a tipping point named Mark Foley. It’s tragic it took us so long to tip the scale, and even more tragic that a rather inconsequential, gossipy story did the tipping (the tragedy being that the public wasn’t moved by the real outrages that have ben in front of their facces for the past 6 years), but at least the scale seems to have tipped. At least there’s a hint of light at the end of the most depressingly dark, dank tunnel in the nation’s modern history.

October 27, 2006 @ 10:16 am | Comment

It’s upsetting that the political focus is on such petty matters like sexuality, creationism vs evolution, etc. I think today Bush re-announced his stance against gay-marriage. Regardless of anybody’s views on such issues, doesn’t it seem pretty piddly compared to, oh, I don’t know, say Social security? Health care costs? America’s foreign policy? The real war on terror? I’m a bit pissed that the republicans are pulling crap from the bottom of the memo and putting it up as the main agenda.

I’m also starting to worry about the divisionist attitude spreading. In general, I’m relatively conservative. But it seems that whenever somebody on the right says something slightly different from the main focus of the party, he/she is ostracized or called unpatriotic. So I’m for lower taxes, freer markets and efficiency in government expenditures (typical conservative pushes, right?), but as soon as I say I disagree with torturing detainees, I’m called a traitor. What the crap???!

October 27, 2006 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

You know, I can disagree with conservatives about a lot of things. But to me there are certain bottom-line issues around respect, tolerance, and, you know, NOT TORTURING PEOPLE!

You’re right, Chip, the phenomena you’re discussing is what is so very disturbing about the modern Republican party. I’ve gotten to the point where I just can’t talk to people who are still Bush supporters. I have Libertarian friends with whom I have many disagreements – but the ones who are horrified by things like detainee mistreatment and the abandonment of fundamental Constitutional principles are people I can talk to and respect.

October 27, 2006 @ 4:15 pm | Comment

You asked for my opinion about Taibbi verbally stomping NY Times’ Russia correspondent Michael Wines’ face into the cement?

Sorry but I approve of that SOOOOO much, that my repertoire of hyperbole will never be sufficient to praise Taibbi enough.

Michael Wines is one of those hack journalists who personify SO much that enrages me. Like most American correpsondents in Russia, he’s a bubble-boy who misses all the real stories and doesn’t understand the handful of stories he does get.

Three cheers for Taibbi, then!

October 27, 2006 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

Thanks for giving me the incentive (and an easy-to-follow link) so that I’ll finally read this story (one of many on my “oughta” list). Sad, the way “democracy” has turned out in the U.S. Puts me in mind of the antics of the Roman Senate when Caligula was appointing his horse. Next on my “oughta-read” list is Gibbons’ “Decline and Fall of the Afforesaid Empire.”

October 28, 2006 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

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