Congress Enters the Terri Schiavo Debate | Morally Bankrupt Legislation | Overweight Kids

Out of Town—But not soon enough? Just when we were exclaiming “at last!” as the 109th Congress was fleeing the Capitol for a two-week Easter recess, some hard-line Republican conservatives, led by Representative Tom Delay of Texas, maneuvered themselves into the life-or-death case of Terri Schiavo. She is the 41-year-old Florida woman now in her 15th year of a “persistent vegetative state” following a heart stoppage that temporarily blocked oxygen from reaching her brain.

Resolutions seeking to give jurisdiction to a federal judge over the question of the brain-damaged woman’s continued survival by use of a feeding tube—Florida courts have repeatedly approved her husband’s wish to remove the tube—led to the passage of a bill in the U.S. Senate by voice vote. The bill then cleared a partisanly divided House, 203 to 58, at nearly 1 a.m. on March 21. Some Democrats bitterly opposed the bill as an intrusion.

President Bush had rushed back to Washington from his Texas ranch and had left orders to be awakened when the bill passed.

He signed it immediately, and the White House issued a pre-dawn statement in which he said: “In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have the presumption in favor of life. I appreciate the bipartisan action by members of Congress to pass this bill. I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans, including those with disabilities.”

Some Congressional Republicans believe that the Schiavo controversy is “a great political issue” for the G.O.P., and have linked it with the evangelical conservatives’ support of Republican resistance to abortion and gay marriage.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times called the Terri Schiavo legislation a Republican “opportunity to appease right-wing constituents.” But an ABC News poll found that 70 percent of those questioned said that the attempted Congressional interference was “wrong.”

And U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore agreed. He rejected a request for a court order reinstalling Schiavo’s feeding tube. His decision was then taken to the Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta.

Bankruptcy—There was congressional chicanery in the financial area. When the Republican majority got passage of a bankruptcy control act, lobbied for years by the credit card and banking industries, it was legerdemain disguised as legislation. As enacted, it will now be harder for people forced into bankruptcy to retain any of their personal assets, although the wealthy will be able to shelter their assets through trusts.

People seem to have figured this out. A Gallup Poll in March put citizen job approval of Congress at 37 percent, its lowest level since 1999.

A little-noticed, 150-page report by Representative Louise Slaughter of New York, the senior—and liberal—Democrat on the House Rules Committee, called the House Republicans “the most arrogant, unethical and corrupt majority in modern congressional history.”

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has said that “even hard-bitten cynics” have been “awestruck by the level of open deceit” in the budget dealings of the Bush administration and its congressional advocates.

A Weighty Issue—Adult life expectancy in America is going up. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American women lived to 80.1 years on average in 2003, vs. 74.8 years for men.

But according to another study, the life outlook of today’s children is being shrunk by a rapid rise in childhood obesity. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine says that children today may live two to five years less than they would if so many of them were not overweight.

And then there’s the teenage driver threat. Young-driver fatalities in many states have been rising along with the increasing sale of bulky SUVs. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers these so-called sport utility vehicles lead the automobile market with 29 percent of sales.