Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Playing politics with students' rights

The Nation online covered Congress's hasty passage of the so-called "Student and Teacher Safety Act."

The article does a great job questioning the Republican leadership's true motivations behind fast-tracking the bill (it completely skipped the committee process and was passed on the House floor by a voice vote of 20 or so members).
Other critics go further, claiming that Davis was desperate for a legislative victory to court voters in his district, where opinion polls have him locked in a statistical dead-heat with Lucas. "[Davis] clearly wants a piece of legislation that lets him say that he stands for school safety," says Mary Kusler, assistant director of government relations for the American Association of School Administrators. "This is typical in an election year--we see legislation passed with fancy titles that isn't substantial policy."

Perhaps just as typically, Democrats and other opponents have charged Republicans with hypocrisy on school safety. Not only does Davis's bill put at stake the very money schools use to keep students and teachers safe, Congressional Republicans also cut those same funds by 20 percent--more than $90 million--in the 2006 fiscal year and are proposing cutting another $36 million this year. In a bizarre budgetary twist President Bush is proposing eliminating the funding for Safe and Drug-Free School Grants altogether in 2007, while Davis's bill calls for any noncompliant schools to lose this funding after 2008. So if Bush and his allies get their way, Davis's legislation would end up threatening school districts with the loss of nonexistent funds. To date, Davis appears to have made no public statement opposing Bush's proposal.

The Congressman's mind may be elsewhere, however. Made up largely of affluent Cincinnati suburbs, his district in Kentucky is considered the most staunchly Republican in the state. But Davis's controversial attacks on Democrats, his ties to disgraced Republican Congressmen and the nationwide impact of the Mark Foley scandal have made the single-term incumbent one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House.

In November of last year Davis sparked outrage when he accused liberals and Democrats of siding with Al Qaeda. Responding to Congressman John Murtha's call for withdrawal from Iraq, Davis declared: "[Al Qaeda's leaders] have brought the battlefield to the halls of Congress. And, frankly, the liberal leadership have put politics ahead of sound fiscal and national security policy. And what they have done is cooperated with our enemies and are emboldening our enemies." Inspired by the ensuing backlash, the national Democratic Party recruited Lucas--a former three-term incumbent who beat Davis in 2002 but declined to run in 2004--to take on his successor.

Democrats have also seized on Davis's campaign funds as an election issue. Aided by appearances from both President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, Davis has a significant lead in fundraising, but contributions to his campaign include a $10,000 donation from the Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (ARMPAC), once led by recently ousted House majority leader Tom DeLay, who is under indictment in Texas for violation of campaign finance laws. Davis also received donations from former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, convicted of mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery for taking money and gifts from defense contractors, and Congressman Bob Ney, convicted of conspiracy and making false statements in relation to the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. Unlike many other Representatives, Davis has chosen not to give back the money.

The worst part about all of this, though, is that House Democrats allowed the Republican leadership to get away with giving Rep. Davis an easy legislative victory on a voice vote. Not one Democrat requested a roll call vote to get members of Congress on record about this bill, even though in doing so they could have likely defeated it since shady legislative fast-tracking required the bill to have a 2/3 majority to pass.

I'm sure the Democrats will be sorry if Rep. Davis wins reelection on November 7 by touting this victory as evidence that he can get things done in Congress. And they'll be extra sorry if they fail to take control of the House by just one seat. They could have stopped they bill and Rep. Davis's victory lap, but they didn't.

1 comment:

800 pound gorilla said...

I seriously doubt that his Democratic party challenger will bring up this "feel good" legislation in the negative barrage that inevitably arises when two candidates are so close to each other ideologically. I've seen a sampling of the political ads. They all play on emotional issues, bring up false choices, and revolve around personal idiosyncrasies or "peccadilloes" as described in my book. That's because Democrats offer no real alternative to Republicans on nearly all major issues - especially at the top tier.