Back-room dealing a Capitol trend.
First of three parts WASHINGTON — Dismayed that the technology company
Accenture had located its headquarters in Bermuda, thereby avoiding
paying hundreds of millions of dollars in US taxes, the House
Appropriations Committee voted 35-17 this summer to strip the firm of a
$10 billion Homeland Security contract.
It was a rare moment of bipartisan agreement and an important victory
for those who decry corporate tax loopholes. But it didn't last long.
The Rules Committee, the all-powerful gatekeeper of the Republican
leadership, prevented the measure from reaching the House floor. In a
further show of its power to pick and choose what the full House can
vote on, the Rules Committee allowed the House to vote on a ban on
future Homeland Security contracts to overseas companies — but let the
$10 billion flow to Accenture, which spent $2 million last year
lobbying the government.
The Accenture episode is emblematic of the way business is conducted in
the 108th Congress, where a Republican leadership has sidelined
legislation unwanted by the Bush administration, even when a majority
of the House seemed ready to approve it, according to lawmakers,
lobbyists, and an analysis of House activities. With one party
controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, and having
little fear of retaliation by the opposing party, the House leadership
is changing the way laws are made in America, favoring secrecy and
speed over open debate and negotiation. Longstanding rules and
practices are ignored. Committees more often meet in secret. Members
are less able to make changes to legislation on the House floor. Bills
come up for votes so quickly that elected officials frequently don't
know what's in them. And there is less time to discuss proposed laws
before they come up for a vote.
“There is no legislative process anymore,” said Fred Wertheimer, the
legendary open-government activist who has been monitoring Congress
since 1963. “Bills are decided in advance of going to the floor.”
. . .