3/26/2007

Has Nancy run out of ideas?

The Democratic majority that swept into Congress in the 2006 elections claimed a mandate on a broad swathe of issues, from health coverage to the minimum wage. But most importantly, it was elected because of Iraq. There was not a truly unified platform, as Pelosi claimed, nor was there even consensus among the antiwar Democrats about how the war should be brought to a close: some opposed it but believed that it was the President's prerogative to manage, and that there was little Congress could do directly short of cutting off funding, a politically suicidal move. Others believed that Congress should press for immediate withdrawal, while the middle of the party generally supported the idea of setting a timeline for withdrawal.

In the first 100 hours, the House of Representatives hurriedly passed the Pelosi agenda, with almost none of the pledged bipartisanship and debate, most of which was rejected or modified by the Senate, and none of which has yet been enshrined into law. After this triumph, the Democrats got down to the real reason for their majority: Iraq. After rancorous debate, the Democrats narrowly passed a withdrawal deadline for September 1, 2008 attached to an Iraq spending bill, with fourteen defections and only two Republican votes. What did this do? In practical terms, nothing. This bill has no chance of passing the Senate with the deadline in place; a vote in the Senate on the withdrawal deadline alone fell three votes short of a majority, and twelve short of the level necessary to overcome a filibuster.

And if the bill did pass the Senate, what then? Well, assuming Bush refuses to cave, which given his record is a virtual certainty, he would have two options: veto, forcing Democrats (with far less than two-thirds support) to cut off funds for the war or to pass funding without the deadline. Or he could simply accept the bill with no intention of honoring the withdrawal deadline, and in a year and a half, with less than four months left in office, he could simply ride out the Constitutional showdown, which he would probably eventually win in any case.

But the Democrats have made their dramatic show of defiance, and that's what counts. What really worries Democrats now is 2008. They were elected on the widespread perception of Republicans as unable to govern, and if they don't show some concrete legislation by the next election cycle, not only will their tenuous majority be imperiled, but they may be saddled with four more years of Republican presidency. The environment is perhaps the one remaining issue which can unite the disparate Democratic coalition, but even on that issue some are saying better to wait until a Democratic presidency in 08, when more dramatic reform can be passed, while others debate cap-and-trade versus emissions standards, all the while throwing wasteful ethanol subsidies at the corn farmers of Iowa.

Your move, Nancy.

1 comment:

voiceofreason said...

The Democrats certainly have a problem with their inability to influence more of the country's policies with the war in Iraq. However, other problems are already beginning to surface. Allow me to elucidate one.

The Democrats, since claiming majority status in both congressional chambers in January, are battling ethics and management-style issues, although not to the extent that the Republicans were battling before in the six months before they were ousted. The most prominent of these ethics scandals involves Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), Louisiana's first Black congressman since Reconstruction, who is still fighting charges stemming from the FBI's seizure of $90,000 in bribe money from a freezer of his.

In addition, it seems that the Democrats have begun to resort to some of the low parliamentary tactics in Congress that the Republicans used while they were in the majority. The recently-passed and much-publicized U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act appropriates $124 billion for spending, but about $21 billion are earmarked for interests not related to the war in Iraq or to the much-publicized situation in veterans' hospitals. Some of the beneficiaries include dairy and spinach farmers, and seafood and peanut production companies. And when Republicans disputed these appropriations, which had nothing to do with all of the rhetoric surrounding the Act, Democrats turned them away (maybe improperly) on a mere technicality. While the Democrats included congressional ethics reforms in their 100-hour blitz, they, in turning the Republicans away in this case, turned on one of their own reforms: they had adopted rules "requiring that appropriation 'earmarks' for special purposes identify their authors.