You’ve probably seen House Speaker Torn Foley on television recently answering a question or two on the progress of the budget negotiations with the White House. He looks like a graying, friendly uncle who is a voice for moderation and kindliness toward even his political opponents — the Republicans. That’s the public Tom Foley. The political infighter who presides over the House of Representatives are quite another story.
Listen to the self-styled “tough guy” in the House of Representatives — Jim Traficant, Jr. (D-OH). The subject is the Bush-Foley Pay Raise for the top 3000 officials in government including the members of Congress. Rep. Traficant went to the floor of the House last November to denounce the $35,000 pay grab that the House leadership rammed through without permitting any amendments even to be offered. “The government is broke,” cried the outspoken Traficant, and here is the House raising its pay by a huge amount to $125000 a year plus generous pension increases and benefits.
Why then would the “tough guy” of the House not join the small group of Representatives supporting H.R. 5416 to repeal the Pay Grab and aggressively move to get the bill higher visibility? “I can’t afford to jeopardize my District,” he said. “I’ll be supporting a recorded vote, ” if the bill reaches the floor, he added, “but I can’t be part of an organized effort.” Traficant is alluding to water projects for his District that are part of pending legislation. The House leadership just might decide to reduce their likelihood of passage.
Again and again, we found that House members, who voted against the Pay Grab last year, were very reluctant to take a stand for repeal this year. A large minority of 174 members voted against their pay raise. Yet only 25 of these members are signed on to H.R. 5416 to repeal. Fear grips the House of Representatives. The more junior members fear their masters in the House more than they fear the overwhelming majority (80%) of the American people who want this Pay Grab repealed, especially at a time of huge deficits, budget cuts and scandals.
Pep. Bruce Morrison, now running for Governor of Connecticut, voted no last year. He would like to take a more active role for repeal, but he is worried about the immigration bill he is moving through Congress. Why would he think that the House leadership of Tom Foley would be mean-spirited enough to retaliate on this legislation? Because that is the real world inside the House.
Rep. Doug Walgren (D-PA) has co-sponsored H.R. 5416, but is concerned about upsetting Foley’s ally on pay raises, John Dingell (D-M1), who is not reluctant to exercise retaliatory power against a junior fellow member of his Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Then there is populist, Lane Evans (D-IL) who signed on H.R. 5416, but is not actively working for its passage. Seems he is worried about Foley and Co. undermining an Agent Orange bill that he is trying to get passed on behalf of afflicted Vietnam war veterans.
The list of similar situations that dissenting members find themselves could go on and on. The reaction of citizens outside Washington would be the same, however. How could Foley and his Republican side-kick, Bob Michel (R-IL) be so petty, so vindictive on such a self-enrichment issue, no less?
One answer is that Foley-Michel score points with the majority of members who voted to raise their salaries and already generous pensions at a time when the American people’s loss of confidence and disgust with them have reached new levels. You see Foley and Michel have no opponent of each others party on the ballot next month. They are running unopposed. So their chief goal is entrenching their own power in the House of Representatives by getting goodies passed that make their followers happy.
Our nation is in crisis and it is more important than ever for political leaders to lead by example, rather than by hypocrisy. The moral authority of a democratic government demands no less. But not apparently to such lesser men.