A New Look for Congress

Harold Meyerson has a great (speculative) look at the first few weeks of a Democrat controlled congress in his Washington Post column:

In the House, the Democrats have made clear that there's a first tier of legislation they mean to bring to a vote almost immediately after the new Congress convenes. It includes raising the minimum wage, repealing the Medicare legislation that forbids the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices, replenishing student loan programs, funding stem cell research and implementing those recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission that have thus far languished.

All these measures command massive popular support. The reason they've not been enacted is that House Republicans have passed rules making it impossible for the Democrats to offer amendments to any significant legislation, thereby sparing themselves the indignity of having to choose, say, between the interests of their financial backers in the drug industry and their constituents.

Cognizant that they will owe their victory in part to the public's revulsion at the way Congress does (or avoids) business, the Democrats also plan to revise House rules to enable the opposition party to introduce amendments and to sit on conference committees, from which Republicans have routinely excluded them since Tom DeLay became majority leader. They also will ban members from accepting gifts and paid trips from lobbyists.
Not stuff that Rove & Co. will be able to use to scare up support from 'the base' - or at least not enough rabid-right-wing-revulsion to change the election. In fact, as Mr. Meyerson notes, these are all extremely popular pieces of legislation. Do Republicans chance filibustering the minimum wage increase? (If they did, would the Dems go nuclear?) Will Bush veto stem cell research again? As a lame duck, would he become a veto machine, trying to derail the Democratic agenda at every turn? Hard to say. Hopefully we'll see.

The big issue, though - and the one that can't be fixed in a few votes over the course of a week or so - is Iraq. Mr. Meyerson notes that if the Baker Commission recommends phased withdrawal, Dems will be lucky. If that recommendation is accepted by the Bush Administration, it would make a draw-down possible. Even if George W. Bush stays the course on Staying the Course, the Baker Commission would provide some political cover.

If none of this materializes, the Democrats would be left with a thorny and complicated problem. They can't just ignore the War in Iraq - it was the issue that brought them the majority - but politics won't let them unilaterally withdraw either. Meyerson believes that they'd be reduced to using the power of the purse to force the President's hand.

Hopefully it won't come to that. We'll know in a month.

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