Saturday, March 19, 2005

Congress: Democracy's day off


Sometimes it's inspiring to see American democracy in action. One can only imagine the great debates in Congress -- the ethical challenges against slavery, the creation of land grant universities or the push to end elderly poverty through an idea called Social Security.

Yesterday was not one of those days.

This Congress seems ready to substitute rants on Fox News for a deliberative legislative process.

In one packed hearing room, members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- jockeyed for attention before the live televised audience, ready to take swift and strong action against the abuse of steriods in baseball. The testimony of retired slugger Mark McGwire -- refusing to name names -- even brought back memories of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But the bizarre legislation wasn't on screen.

The House passed on a voice vote, without hearing or thought, a measure to give federal courts jurisdiction to review decisions to withhold food, fluids or medical treatment from an incapacitated person, saying that it violates either the Constitution or U.S. law. They'll probably call this "Terry's law" because it's designed to prevent the husband of Terry Schiavo from removing a feeding tube.

This is one of those really tough decisions that families make every day. But the bill's sponsors would prefer that federal judges overrule spouses.

One House member who opposed the bill, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called it "a dangerously reckless way to deal with some serious issues. ... It does not deal just with feeding tubes. It would allow intervention in any decision affecting any kind of medical care. Read the bill."

The Senate is expected to weigh in quickly, too. It may consider a similar measure as soon as today.

Then with a war on, national deficits reaching record levels and the continuing challenges of international terrorism, it's interesting to see that Congress can get excited about something.

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