Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Democrats Challenge Republicans To Do The Peoples Business

Huffington Post
Carl Pope
Does Anyone Remember Speaker Foley?

The Democrats have just been handed a golden opportunity for this November, and they seem to be grasping it. Faced with dismal poll numbers, the Republican leadership of a failed Congress has decided to abandon the public's business, run for the hustings (or the hills), and campaign against their own Congress and White House.
"Don't blame me -- it's those guys in DC."

In the process, the Republican Congressional leadership has decided to abandon any pretense of legislating. Next week, Congress will vote on a bill to prevent horse slaughter for human consumption -- and then they will go home without having passed a single one of the vital Appropriations bills, much less dealing with energy policy, immigration, pension security, or any of the other big issues facing them.

This same instinct to cut and run afflicted the Democratic 103rd Congress back in 1994. The Democrats had a substantial legislative agenda -- campaign finance reform, Superfund reauthorization, and education funding. The House had passed these bills. But, determined to deny the Democrats any victories, the Republicans in the Senate filibustered everything. Exactly twelve years ago, I remember meeting with then Vice-President Gore to urge him and President Clinton to announce that until the Senate voted crucial bills up or down -- just voted (either way) -- he would keep Congress in session. I argued then, and I would argue today, that for a party in power there is no substitute for doing the public's business and demanding that your opposition join you in that labor.

Gore said he was intrigued, but he told me that the Democrats in Congress were so eager to get out of town and on the campaign trail that the President couldn't hold them. Speaker Foley, among others, went down in flames five weeks later.

Now the Republicans are borrowing from Foley's script, but their situation is vastly worse. In '94 the Democrats could pass bills; they just couldn't get past the filibuster. In 2006, the Republicans can't even agree among themselves. So they are not fleeing an empowered opposition -- they are fleeing their own internal contradictions and failures -- and the daily news from Iraq.

And the same tired scent of abuse of power that Newt Gingrich rode into power 12 years ago is once again oozing from Capitol Hill. Senate Appropriation Chair Ted Stevens, of "Bridges and Roads to Nowhere" infamy, was exposed as the Senator who had single-handedly prevented the Senate from considering legislation that would have created a searchable database of federal contractors to enhance the chances that inside deals would get detected and headed off in time. The legislation was by fellow Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Stevens, who cheerfully showered hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on pork barrel projects in his state, objected secretly, because, he claimed, he just "wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer..." When the "hold" blocking consideration of the bill was first announced, everyone in Washington assumed it was Stevens who was behind it. Coburn bluntly told the press that if Stevens had concerns, he should have attended the hearings, and that the only reason to hold it up was if Stevens had something to hide. Well, there is another explanation -- the fact that Coburn had tried to cut off appropriations for the Bridges to Nowhere earlier in the year. Ted Stevens, it appears, is not one who believes that revenge is a dish best eaten cold -- he likes it piping hot.

The Democrats have grabbed on to this opportunity. Last week the Democratic leadership sent their Republican colleagues a letter stating that "we propose Congress act on five key issues that have an immediate impact on the lives of the American people before adjourning for the November election." The five issues were homeland security, health care, college tuition, oil addiction, and economic security. After making the case for doing the public business, the Democratic leadership threw down the gauntlet: "For Members of Congress to hit the campaign trail while urgent national needs remain unmet would be a serious abdication of our responsibilities as elected officials. We reject assertions that the people's business can wait until after the November election. Therefore, until Congress passes legislation that meets the real needs of the American people, House Democrats will actively resist adjournment."

This should become the theme of this fall's election. Tom Foley's colleagues found out the hard way that they couldn't run from being the party in power; Dennis Hastert may be about to learn the same lesson.