Thursday, March 24, 2005

Where in the World Was Your Congressional Representation?

As noted on this fine Internet site earlier this week, the House of Representatives vote for supporting the Terri Schiavo appeal was remarkably bi-partisan in nature. 78% (203 of 261) of those voting were in agreement to support the Federal court review of the Schiavo starvation order. This included 46% (47 of 102) of Democrats present to vote. Despite what the relentlessly shrill partisan voices of division in the media are trying to tell you, Democrats and Republicans came together on this one, put their principles above their party ID, and tried to do the right thing.

Those voting "nay" on this bill weren't even the second largest voting bloc on Monday. Those morbid nabobs only mustered 58 votes total. Far outnumbering them was another, more mysterious caucus. Those who didn't even bother to show up.

Fully 174 US Representatives--a staggering 40% of the total--were unable to come to Washington to vote on the Schiavo bill. No doubt different circumstances contributed to this systematic absenteeism. It's likely that the controversial nature of this bill spooked more than a few weather vane politicians who would rather not have to go on record supporting either side in this case. (And if they were forced to come in and vote, I suspect the ratio of Democratic votes in support would have been severely eroded.)

The more common explanation has to do with the Easter recess Congress had already begun (when you're in government you can never start those vacations too early). The story goes, many of our public servants had fled the city and had trouble getting back in time for this previously unscheduled vote.

But, really, how difficult is it for these people schedule a flight with a few days notice in order to do the job they begged us to have? Not very. Unless they had something they'd really rather be doing instead.

Like, for instance, exotic world travel.

That certainly seems to be the case with the missing members of the Minnesota Congressional contingent. Four of our Representatives did vote, Democrat Jim Oberstar and Republicans Mark Kennedy, Jim Ramstad, and John Kline. (It's interesting to note, all four supported the bill, giving MN a perfect clean sweep in support of Terri Schiavo.)

But the other four suspects were no where to be found. At least not around Washington.

Democratic Representative Colin Peterson from the 7th District and Martin Sabo of the 5th were traveling in Europe, according to the Star Tribune, "on Congressional business". It's hard to imagine what Congressional business is more important than a floor vote. But we'll assume a trip to Europe during a vacation period was indeed vital. Although not vital enough to be listed on either of their official Web sites (or anywhere else to the full extent of my Googling abilities.)

Next up is Gil "I Love This Job" Gutknecht, the Republican from Congressional District 1. He was in .... Europe. According to the Star Tribune, Germany "on Congressional business". The nature of this business was not specified in the article, nor is it on his web site. MPR reported last year that Gutknecht has a prior record of German travel obligations:

Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Republican from Rochester, traveled to Germany twice last year, although one of the trips was a combination of an official and private trip. He flew to Europe on a taxpayer-funded flight to visit U.S. troops in Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Germany, and while there, accepted $850 worth of food and lodging to speak to the German Chamber of Commerce.

Gutknecht's spokesman, Bryan Anderson, said the congressman had legitimate business in going to Germany.

"He is the chairman of Congressional Study Group on Germany," Anderson said. "With his interest in prescription drug prices, it fits in with his work."

I'm sure it does. Let's just hope someday his work can fit in with his interest in Germany, so he can make sure to vote when he's supposed to.

Finally, there's 4th District DFLer Betty "I Have a Job That I Love" McCollum. She was too busy to come back due to .... a Congressional junket touring Mexico and Panama. Another nice place to spend a spring break, I must say. No wonder she loves her job so much.

McCollum was good enough to mention her trip on her web site. Her schedule includes this appearance: McCollum will also attend Palm Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

In between Church and all that junketing, at least Ms. McCollum did have time to release a statement from beautiful, balmy Panama indicating what she might have done had she the time to come back to work:

Ms. Terri Schiavo deserves the right to human dignity and respect.  Instead, this brain damaged woman and her family are being used as political pawns. Republican Leader Tom Delay has decided it is in his interest to exploit Terri Schiavo's misery and the anguish of her loved ones for political gain. Nothing I have witnessed in Congress has been more cynical or distasteful.

Not that she actually "witnessed" Tom Delay do anything from all the way in Panama, but her hyperbolic attempt at partisan exploitation is well taken.

Let's hope Catholic Betty McCollum had time to say a prayer for some personal guidance during her promoted appearance at the Bascilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her statements indicate some gaps in her understanding of the Faith, as articulated by this recognized expert in Catholicism, Pope John Paul II:

I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.

The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission.

... such an act is always "a serious violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person"

No word yet on whether Rep. McCollum believes the Pope is being exploitative, cynical, and distasteful as well. Hopefully she'll have time to comment on that when she gets back from Mexico.

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