Thursday, November 09, 2006

OK, now what?

The smoke has cleared. The Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress. Nancy Pelosi ("I just don't like the sound of her voice", Nashville radio personality Coyote McCloud said Wednesday) will become the new House Speaker, and "Light Horse" Harry Reid is set to become Senate Majority Leader. And to top it all off, Donald Rumsfeld offered himself up as a sacrifice to placate the angry electoral gods.

Those who are expecting Great Things from the Democratically-controllled 110th Congress need to keep three points in mind, though. First, George Walker Bush is still President of the United States, holder of the bully pulpit and veto pen. Second, the Democrats cannot muster a majority without their blue-dog caucus, centrists (and a few center-rightists) who will throw the brakes on if the liberal wing of the party tries to go too far too fast. Finally, GWB is now the lamest of lame ducks, and everybody in Washington knows it. The 2008 presidential campaign effectively began Wednesday, and Presidential hopefuls of both parties will be looking to frame legislation in such a way as to enhance their chances of gaining higher office.

With Democrats now calling the tune, some issues - such as enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 commission - appear to be in good shape, as Republicans will go along rather than risk being seen as obstructionist in protecting Americans from terrorism. The Democrats' domestic agenda - which should include items such as raising the minimum wage and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, for starters - will be in for tough sledding, though.

Now is the time for Democrats to get tough and make President Bush break out his veto pen. Also, the message needs to be sent to the White House that the signing statements used by GWB for the last six years asserting that the Executive Branch has the right to interpret legislation as it sees fit will no longer be tolerated - that, if necessary, they will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. Democrats will not be likely to override any of these vetos. But what they should have in two years is a laundry list of issues on which Democrats and Republicans differ, providing the voters in 2008 with a clear choice as to how they want their country to be governed. This choice is not one that the Democrats should fear.


Tom Hull, as usual, has some sharp points to make:

Still, the Democrats still have a lot to learn. The idea that by controlling Congress they'll be governing is certainly false. The presidency is still an extraordinary power base, even for presidents far less megalomaniacal than Bush. And unity will be harder to maintain as the Republicans push their wedge issues. But for the last six years the Democrats in Washington have been all but totally silenced, and that at least will start to change. The media follows what they regard as legitimate power centers, and control of Congress gives the Democrats one. That sets the stage for 2008, which will depend on two things: how badly Bush continues to fare, and how credible the Democrats become. In many ways, the election this one closely resembles is 1930. The Crash of 1929 turned a shocked nation against the Republicans, but the 1930 election was still razor thin: the Republicans held control of Congress by a margin so thin it evaporated before the 1932 election, which Roosevelt won in a landslide. I don't know who the Democrats have who could do that, but any signs of competency at all are good signs. Bush, on the other hand, is sure to do his part.


ADDENDUM: Forget all that; I urge the adoption of Mixter's New Democrat Manifesto immediately!