Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., may have said it best. He was asked recently by reporters what he thought of the Arkansas judge's decision to throw out the Paula Jones case.
"Since this appears to be good news for the president, I presume the political numbers will go down," Lott said.He was referring to the phenomenon that is Bill Clinton's poll ratings. The worse things get for the president, the more Americans seem to like him. The latest polls have him at 65 percent.
Washington has become Bizarro World, where up is down and vice versa. In a city where elected leaders are afraid to shower in the morning without first checking the polls, nobody knows what to make of the latest numbers.
Not only do the polls look good for the president, but they're also coming up roses for Newt Gingrich and company. The slimmed-down speaker is on a book tour this month while Congress takes its Easter break, basking in polls that show its approval ratings at a record high.
Apparently members of Congress have figured out what Clinton learned a long time ago: The more shameless you are, the more people like you. Consider the following events, which took place in the days leading up to the congressional recess:
- Before leaving town, Republican leaders made a mockery of their promise to hold a vote on campaign-finance reform. Gingrich has now managed to break both of his major promises on campaign-finance reform. First, he failed to appoint a bipartisan commission to tackle the issue, as he had vowed to do in a 1995 handshake agreement with Clinton. Second, he failed to hold an open vote on the most popular and comprehensive campaign-finance package.
Republican leaders never had any intention of letting a true reform package pass. But - just as in the Senate - a majority of the House has grown tired of the constant whoring for cash and now supports a bill that would take away the unregulated streams of soft money now flowing into the coffers of both parties.
Panicked, the leadership devised a strategy that backfired spectacularly. Instead of having the open vote that was promised, GOP leaders brought to the floor a sham proposal put together by Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., which contained a union-busting provision guaranteed to strip virtually all Democratic support. But that vote was postponed when it appeared certain that the bill would be replaced by the more comprehensive measure.
- Days after the campaign-finance debacle, the House joyously passed a fat lard-bucket of a transportation bill - $217 billion worth of highway overpasses, bicycle trails and other assorted goodies sprinkled generously among the 435 congressional districts.
In doing so, the House broke apart the carefully crafted budget agreement of last year, exceeding targeted spending levels by $26 billion.
The bill fulfilled a long-held dream of Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., the pork-loving chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who managed to take the $30 billion highway trust fund "off budget," meaning Congress can't use the money in that fund for anything that Shuster doesn't approve of.
So what does the bill propose to pay for? How about $1.7 million for an "access road and related facilities" for the Fisher Peak Mountain Music Interpretive Center on Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, or $4.9 million to build "access and related improvements to Downtown Riverfront Area in Dayton, Ohio."
The passage of the highway bill was a classic election-year maneuver. Get the votes you need by doling out pork to every district. Soothe the fragile nerves of incumbents by giving them each a project or two to take credit for with the voters back home. We'll worry later about how to pay for it.
Four years ago, we were under the distinct impression that voters had rejected such politics-as-usual approaches to governing by electing themselves a new Congress. Apparently they just wanted new faces to carry out the same tired old schemes.