A la Bastille!

DID YOU KNOW THAT while America slept, there has emerged a shadowy and ever-growing cabal of U.S. senators and representatives organized under the subversive banner of ... the Congressional French Caucus?! C'est vrai. California's two senators have joined the conspiracy -- Dianne Feinstein even brags about two of her grandchildren being French citizens. But lest you think it's some kind of Perrier-swilling Democratic appeasement club, know that the group was founded by former New York Rep. Amo Houghton, a Republican, and is co-chaired by Sen. Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho) and Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). As the American patriot David Byrne once asked, Qu'est-ce que c'est?

What's happening here is actually quite normal. Congress is filled with subgroups galore, from the Shellfish Caucus to the Brain Injury Task Force, and one of the most popular organizing themes is friendship toward -- or concern about -- a particular foreign country. There are Friends of Denmark (aren't we all?), a Saudi Arabian Study Group (which undoubtedly enjoys more book learning than your average Saudi female) and even a Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus. Clearly, the "Axis of Weasel" (or were they "cheese-eating head-butters"?) needed to play catch-up after the 2003 dog days of Freedom Fries, and no self-respecting member of Congress has ever turned down a trip to Paris, so a new club was born.

If there's anything truly controversial about the Congressional French Caucus on this, the 217th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, it's that the members' interests -- or more accurately, the interests of the French lobbyists who interact with them -- are now more aligned with what's good for America than the protectionist, election-year sausage being created and contemplated by the 109th Congress.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), for example, is trying to ram through a foreign investment bill that would require that all purchases related to "critical infrastructure" -- meaning anything whose destruction would have a "debilitating impact" on "national economic security" -- be delayed for a minimum of 45 days while a committee composed of several Cabinet members screens the would-be buyer on criteria such as whether its country of origin is sufficiently helpful in the war on terror.

And in June, the House of Representatives gleefully scotched the long-overdue "Open Skies" aviation agreement between the U.S. and Europe by prohibiting non-U.S. citizens from exercising managerial control over some (but not all) aspects of a U.S. airline, an act of self-defeating xenophobia.

France, in addition to being the United States' oldest ally (albeit a nettlesome one), is one of the five largest foreign investors in the U.S., and French companies are rightly alarmed by rising American protectionism. But it's American consumers and workers who are most hurt when foreign capital is turned away, so more power to the French Caucus if it can help Congress block senseless legislation.

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