Saturday, May 17, 2008

Do You Know What Your Government is Doing?

We are overwhelmed with information these days, so it is not surprising that we don't always know what is going on, especially if we think government and politics is boring and don't pay attention to those areas of our lives.

Actually, the more you learn about government and politics, the more interesting it gets. The thing to remember, though, is that what our government does and doesn't do affects our lives and our futures and it should be a priority to know what is going on and to educate ourselves about the Constitution and how government is supposed to work, as compared to how it does work.

One good place to study our nation's documents is at The Patriot Post. They have a section called "Historic Documents" which has links to documents throughout history that have influenced our nation, and current documents as well. While you're there, look through the archives and read essays and their newsletters (Monday Brief, Wednesday Chronicle, and Friday Digest). You'll learn a lot and be entertained at the same time.

Now, back to our current government. Make use of The U.S. Government's Official Web Portal. You can do all sorts of things there. There is a lot of material on the whole government site, so take some time to explore it occasionally and learn what's there. You can visit sites of the various congressional committees and find out what they are doing and have done. You can email committees or you can find out who your senators and representatives are and email them. Look on the right side of the screen at the home page and you'll see a box labeled "Government Agencies". For our purposes today, click on "Federal Government". You will find a link for A-Z agencies and also the three branches of government. Click on "Legislative Branch". Here you will find links to the Senate and the House of Represenatives, as well as agencies that support Congress (like the GAO). This is where you can find out what committees there are and who's on them and what they are working on.

What this is all leading up to--although I want everyone to educate themselves about the government generally--is a couple of things that either have been voted on or will be voted on that I think shows our congress neglecting the best interests of the American people.

First up, on 13 May 2008, the Senate rejected the McConnell Amendment to the Flood Insurance Bill, which contains the American Energy Production Act (Is that convoluted enough for you?). Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had this to say:

“Today, the Senate missed an important opportunity to end the cycle of dependence on foreign oil. The McConnell/Domenici amendment the Senate rejected today would have produced up to 24 billion barrels of American oil, enough to supply our nation with no foreign imports for five years.

“Some around here may wonder why Congress has such low approval ratings. This is why. Americans are being forced to pay higher and higher prices at the pump, with no relief in sight. Adopting this amendment would have given us a path forward, and send a strong signal to the world’s oil markets that America was willing to fully develop its own energy resources. I strongly support all of our efforts to reduce consumption and develop renewable energy, but we cannot rely on those alone to solve our problems.

“I am pleased, however, that the Senate did adopt an amendment to suspend filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Although this amendment won’t have a dramatic effect on gas prices, it does reflect the fact that when oil now costs over $120 dollars a barrel, we need to begin doing things differently. I wish more of my colleagues had recognized that fact with regard to increasing domestic production.”
Over at the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works page, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), on his minority page, gave more detail about this Senate vote:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today voiced disappointment with Senate Democrats for their failure to vote in favor of common-sense legislation that would bring down the price of energy and increase American jobs. Senate Democrats defeated the McConnell amendment 4720 to S. 2284, the Flood Insurance bill, down party lines by a vote of 42-56.
Senator Inhofe specifically said:

“Today’s vote on energy legislation represents a stark contrast between Republicans and Democrats,” Senator Inhofe said. “Rather than raise taxes, block production, increase regulations, and call for investigations, the Republicans offered common-sense legislation that works to bring down the price of gas at the pump and the cost of energy in our homes. The Republican approach brings down prices by increasing access to domestic supplies, expanding the nation’s refinery capacity, and promoting market-based alternatives for our energy future. Importantly, the bill includes key provisions from my Gas Petroleum Refiner Improvement & Community Empowerment Act of 2007 (Gas PRICE Act), legislation that is designed to improve the permitting process for the expansion of existing and construction of new refineries. Unfortunately, no matter how high energy costs soar, too many Democrats and liberal special interest allies continue to block any meaningful measures to help alleviate the pain of high energy costs on American families.

“There should be no surprise that Congress is back again looking for ways to address skyrocketing energy costs. Just four months ago I voted against a Democrat energy bill specifically because I believed it failed Oklahoma and the nation by doing nothing to address rising energy costs. Absent from their ‘energy’ bill were domestic energy resources – such as oil, natural gas, nuclear and clean coal technologies – that are essential to securing an American energy supply that is stable, diverse, and affordable. Today Republicans offered an amendment that would increase domestic energy supplies and once again Democrats voted no.”
There is much more detail on the page.

How many of you even knew such a vote was going on?

Another item on the Senate agenda is described in the 18 April 2008 blog entry on The Inhofe EPW Press Blog. A couple of statements from the blog entry are:
Sen. Inhofe: “Recent hearings in both the Senate and House on the Clean Water Restoration Act made clear the tremendous opposition to the bill by landowners, cattleman, and local governments. Both Committees heard repeatedly in testimony that clean water is critical for our well being; however, this bill does not lead to cleaner water and is nothing more than a federal land grab attempt. If Congress is to amend the Clean Water Act, any changes must provide clarity and reduce lawsuits. This bill does neither. It will not curtail litigation, but rather increase it, as stakeholders seek legal clarity on what exactly are the outer limits of Congressional authority. We should not propose, let alone pass legislative language that increases uncertainty, burdens local governments, and challenges the sanctity of private property rights.”

Rep. Mica: “There is significant nationwide opposition to this unprecedented and historic federal jurisdiction grab, made clear by the lengthy Transportation Committee hearing on Mr. Oberstar’s bill. Multiple witnesses testified to the confusion, costs, delays, and endless litigation that will result should this overreaching bill become law. The responsible regulatory agencies also voiced their concerns with the bill, and testified that they are gaining significant experience with their recent guidance and believe that such a heavy-handed legislative approach is unwarranted. H.R. 2421 and its companion bill in the Senate could lead to the regulation of virtually every wet area in the country, with dramatic impacts on American agri-business, manufacturing, housing, and other businesses, as well as state, local, and individual water and land use rights. With our economy already in troubled waters, this legislation could push American jobs overseas and put another nail in our economic coffin."
Again, how many of you knew of the existence of this bill, which seeks to give control of all US waters and all activities tied to such waters to Congress? Do you realize that all activities, public and private, are tied to US waters in some way? Do you realize what a power grab this is?

I know we can't all be aware of everything all the time, but it should certainly be a priority to keep an eye on what the federal government is doing, and also our state and local governments. You can find links to the state, local, and tribal governments in the same box where we clicked on federal government above. These websites provide names, addresses, and telephone numbers, as well as ways to email your representatives at all levels. If people will just remind our elected officials who they work for (we, the people), it might help prevent some catastrophes.

Do you have ideas on how to keep track of what the government is doing, or on effective ways to let the representatives know of your concerns?

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