With the nation's attention focused on efforts to reform America's health care system, Congress appears mired in partisanship and intraparty sniping. But on issues off the national radar, Congress can be responsive and responsible on occasion. Here are three examples this week of positive legislative actions that offer a glimmer of hope for common sense:
The F-22 Raptor: In a victory for President Barack Obama and fiscal discipline, the Senate voted on Tuesday to strip out $1.75 billion in funding for the Cold War-era F-22 fighter jet. Obama had issued his first veto threat over the combat plane, promising to reject the entire defense authorization bill if the money was not removed.
This should have been an easy call. The Pentagon did not want more of these expensive planes, which cost an estimated $44,000 per hour to operate. Not one has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. But powerful members of Congress with an interest in keeping jobs in their states had insisted on continued funding. When the Senate voted 58-40 to kill the money for the aircraft, it was a rare moment of fiscal restraint. Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted to withdraw the funding while Republican Sen. Mel Martinez voted to keep it.
Concealed Weapon Permits: The Senate rejected an irresponsible and dangerous effort to expand gun rights on Wednesday. The measure would have allowed gun owners with valid concealed weapons permits from their home states to carry hidden guns into other states regardless of local laws. The debate took an odd twist as Republican supporters of the proposal spoke in favor of having the federal government dictate policy across state lines. Typically, Republicans hold an opposing philosophy, but internal consistency tends to move aside when guns are involved.
The concealed weapons measure was an amendment to the defense authorization bill and needed 60 votes to pass under Senate rules. It received only 58. Florida's senators were once again split. Nelson voted against the amendment and Martinez voted for it.
Pay-Go: On Wednesday, the House voted 265-166 for legislation intended to help control the nation's ballooning deficit. The pay-as-you-go bill would impose some fiscal restraint on a Congress predisposed to excessive spending and tax-cutting.
Under President Bill Clinton, a pay-go law helped turn budget deficits into surpluses. The House measure would require new tax cuts or spending programs to be paid for either with increased revenues or cuts in other programs. If pay-go is not followed, then government programs would be automatically cut. But the bill suffers from too many loopholes and would allow, for example, the renewal of the Bush tax cuts without consequence.
Getting back to pay-go's forced fiscal discipline is a priority for Obama. The House bill needs to be stronger, but it is a good start.
"Yes" votes: Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville; Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota; Kathy Castor, D-Tampa; C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.
"No" votes: Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Adam Putnam, R-Bartow.