Congress having a field day with MLB, Pats

By Nick Milano

Because of the intense coverage of the current primary season, I was beginning to have hope in the United States’ democratic system once again.

CNN and the other news networks have been devoting several hours a night to the latest political news. There seems to be widespread acceptance of a need for change in the country’s partisan political landscape. Both Barack Obama and John McCain represent men who have remarkable popularity in their respective parties.

But, this past week has sent me back to my pre-election season cynicism. The media was captivated for days about Roger Clemens’ appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Senator Arlen Specter’s demands that Roger Gooddell talk to him about the New England Patriots’ taping scandals. Is there not more important work for the government to be tackling?

It should be expected of the Oversight Committee to spend its days self-righteously inserting its head into affairs that should not even appear on their radar. One would be correct to remember the committee’s involvement – or rather, its members’ overdramatic reaction to and publicizing of – with the horrible Terry Schiavo case. For the Republican members, those of the party supposedly dedicated to small government, to so overextend itself was a waste of the government’s time and resources. The same is true of the Roger Clemens saga.

Anabolic steroids and most other performance enhancing drugs are prohibited by federal law and their use by professional athletes is shameful, but is this enough to warrant hours of research and investigation and an over-hyped hearing? Professional athletes who perpetrated a fraud on the American public deserve their punishment and the government has an obligation to ensure that this happens. But a four hour hearing that seemed to divide largely along party lines?

The line of questioning and sharp commentary was quite often laughable. Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who led the charge on the Schiavo folly, accused Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch of redefining lynching when he posed Clemens a too “technical medical question.”

Representative John Mica, a Republican from Florida, spent his five minutes questioning Clemens and his trainer, Brian McNamee, on the various colors of the different substances at issue. In the end, Clemens’ reputation was ruined and his hopes of a ticket to the Hall of Fame are surely hindered. McNamee, who was blatantly called a habitual liar by Republican Darrell Issa, suffered much of the same character assassination.

But sitting among such fickle legislators were a few like Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican who recognized that the committee had no business questioning one man on his “alleged bad behavior,” especially when considering the many other Major Leaguers who were ousted by the Mitchell Report.

As Westmoreland said, it is quite obvious that government intervention into the MLB steroid problem produced serious results. Since the infamous hearings in May 2005 during which Mark McGwire all but admitted his own abuse of steroids and Rafeal Palmeiro adamantly denied any use (only to fail a test in August of the same year), baseball has adopted a strong drug testing policy and launched an investigation into the history of performance enhancing drugs in the MLB.

Despite all this, why were these elected officials who just last year awarded themselves another pay increase (since 1998, their median income has grown three times faster than the average median income in the United States), wasting their time debating the personal history of one star pitcher?

There are plenty of issues that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should be looking into (not the least of which is the constitutionality of their self-rewarded raises which Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe astutely observes).

With such a massive budget, is the federal government carefully procuring goods and services? This, not baseball and steroids, is the Committee’s main responsibility. Its jurisdiction may not lend itself to flashy hearings that garner 24 hour news coverage, but will guarantee a more efficient government. MLB responded to the 2005 hearings with the Mitchell Report and harsh drug testing policies.

That was not a waste. Mostly partisan bickering over Roger Clemens is.

Nick Milano writes on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]