Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert engineered a backroom legislative maneuver to protect pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits, say witnesses to the pre-Christmas power play.
The language was tucked into a Defense Department appropriations bill at the last minute without the approval of members of a House-Senate conference committee, say several witnesses, including a top Republican staff member.
Beyond the issue of vaccine liability protection, some say going around the longstanding practice of bipartisan House-Senate conference committees' working out compromises on legislation is a dangerous power grab by Republican congressional leaders that subverts democracy.
"It is a travesty of the legislative process," said Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"It vests enormous power in the hands of congressional leaders and private interests, minimizes transparency and denies legitimate opportunities for all interested parties, in Congress and outside, to weigh in on important policy questions."
Stories like this one effectively answer the question I posed in my last Raw Story column: why would Congressional Republicans so willingly cede their Constitutional powers to the increasingly monarchical president? Because government in the traditional sense is irrelevant to them. Bush is perfectly happy to share the power of graft with his legislative counterparts, and that's good enough for them.