A Bad Legislative Joke; Congress Has Its Priorities Confused

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Bad Legislative Joke; Congress Has Its Priorities Confused


Byline: Harlan Ullman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The great humorist Will Rogers observed about Congress that when it wished to play a joke, it passed a law and, vice versa, many of its laws became jokes. Rogers would not have been disappointed in the recent spectacle over Terry Schiavo and Congress' rush to pass legislation to keep her alive.

About Mrs. Schiavo, hers is a tragedy that no law can fix. For a decade-and-a-half, her case is one torn between parents who desperately wish to sustain her for as long as possible and a husband who wants to do what he believes is the right and merciful thing. So, is this the way our Congress should be spending its precious time above and beyond holding hearings on the use of steroids by professional baseball players?

By contrast, how are other legislative bodies conducting business? In Britain earlier this month, the House of Commons debated an anti-terror bill. Prime Minister Tony Blair believed that in an age of terror, national security warranted intervention into civil liberties. The unelected House of Lords and Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and even Labor members of parliament violently dissented. Even with a 160-seat majority, Mr. Blair had to summon home members of his party who were abroad to carry the vote by a slim majority. Irrespective of the merits of the bill, this was a very serious issue that required very serious response.

In Baghdad, the newly elected National Assembly continues to struggle with selecting a president, deputy presidents, a prime minister and a cabinet. There is no more important issue for Iraq, and its elected officials are laboring under hugely difficult circumstances to reach agreement on that country's political future. It may, as Rogers noted, turn out to be a joke. However, this debate and deliberation are deadly serious and important.

In China, meanwhile, the People's National Assembly passed an anti-secession law against Taiwan independence. Of course, few believe that this body is duly or democratically elected. However, there is no doubt that in the minds of the Chinese that the Taiwan matter is of greatest national importance. Indeed, China's hypersensitivity toward Taiwan has become radioactive in part because China fears Taiwan is using American preoccupation with the war in Iraq as cover to strengthen its pursuit of independence. A rubber-stamp law, no doubt it is - but one reflecting an issue of gravest vital interest to China and one that Abraham Lincoln might have appreciated better than most Americans. …

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