109th Congress: Teachable Moments
Sometimes it seems like nobody is listening. Sometimes Congress sets its own agenda, with its ears trained to corporate supporters or political factions, and no amount of patient lobbying and good common sense seems to make any difference.This is not one of those times.
This 109th Congress faces monumental issues. Senators and representatives are having to come to terms with a war that is out of control, directed by a president who claims broad new powers as commander in chief. Senior members of the House and Senate, including leaders of the president’s own party, are openly questioning the president’s assertion of authority to engage the U.S. in military action without consulting Congress.
This Congress is beginning to face inescapable facts about a damaged global environment and its inevitable impacts on all of us. The discovery that U.S. soldiers are torturing Iraqi and other detainees came as a shock to many members of Congress, as did the news that U.S. agencies are spying on people in the U.S. who are not even suspected of a crime.
In the summer of 2006, the deadly violence sweeping the Middle East has challenged some analysts to consider the root causes of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Members of Congress from both parties are beginning to ask whether the United States may need more non-military tools to respond to such crises before they reach the proportions we now see in Israel and Lebanon. Meanwhile, constituents press their legislators to find answers that will end the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
Members of both houses are finding that they do not have adequate answers to these questions. Sometimes they hide from the big questions, as the House did when it churned through votes on flag burning, protecting the pledge of allegiance, and preserving a cross on a monument near San Diego, while Lebanon and Israel burned. But the questions are still there. The evidence shows up in votes that are closely split, with cross-over voting that does not fall along party lines.
The evidence also shows up in hearings, where members who were once stalwart supporters of the president are asking pointed, sometimes harsh questions and insisting on answers from administration representatives.
Perhaps most importantly, the evidence shows up in the repeated messages from Congress—in the form of “aye” votes on language that prohibits a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq—that this Congress is not willing to follow a commander in chief without question.
These are encouraging moments for all of us at FCNL who deal in ideas and possibilities. We should all use these teachable moments to continue to propose alternate ways of dealing with conflict, injustice, and short-sightedness here at home and abroad.
FCNL Voting Record
Read inside how your elected officials have voted. Use these votes to persuade your members of Congress to ask tough questions and to find openings for smart, just, and peaceful policies to replace old, unjust, war policies.