Custom Search

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Democrats Abused Power? Yes! Government Takeovers!

House GOP: "Democrats Abused Power"

Assailing Congress for passing far-reaching bills that the public had rejected, House Rules Committee Republicans contend that Democrats have run “the most closed Congress in history” and that their heavy-handed tactics and parliamentary maneuvering have led to a “dead end.”

In a narrative meant to connect to the public’s disgust with the current Congress and provides talking points for the Nov. 2 election, the GOP report attacks Democrats for taking the nation “in the wrong direction with the wrong bills in the wrong way at the wrong time.” It focuses especially on alleged abuses in enacting economic stimulus and health reform laws, plus the House-passed “cap and trade” energy bill, and on this year’s failure to move usually routine budget and appropriations bills.

“We were promised a new direction. But we got something exponentially worse,” said Rep. David Dreier of California, the senior Rules Republican. The House’s failure in the past two years to consider a single bill under procedures that permitted open debate on all amendments — and only one minor bill in the four years of Democratic control — has been “beyond the pale.”

He added that Congress should remain in session for at least two additional weeks before the election to finish work on spending and tax legislation. Dreier and his aides gave POLITICO an early copy of the report, which they plan to release publicly Wednesday.

In response, Democratic aides defended the work of the Rules Committee and the openness of the House.

Rules Committee spokesman Vince Morris cited five steps that the panel has taken to “display transparency,” including scheduling most of its meetings during daytime, opening the doors to television coverage, providing edited transcripts of its hearings, designating seats for reporters in the committee’s small hearing room, and improving its website’s disclosure of bills and amendments that it prepared to review. “Republicans decided it was in their interest to oppose rather than to find common ground. ... The public got tired of that clash and won't be giddy just because Republicans pledge to read their own bills,” he said.

In a broader defense of ethics, accountability and transparency reform in what Speaker Nancy Pelosi has termed “the new direction Congress,” her spokesman Brendan Daly cited a report from the Speaker’s office last week that contrasted the scandals and special-interest influence that marked the dozen years of Republican control starting in 1994. Democrats proposed to “restore honest leadership and open government. And we have taken major steps to fulfill this promise,” according to the Democrats’ “reality check.”

With Congress preparing to shut down this week for more than a month before the election, the clash provided a framework for Republican challengers to attack how Congress has operated—especially in the past two years, with President Obama — and for the Democrats’ response. House Minority Leader John Boehner plans to pursue those criticisms and propose changes during a Thursday speech at the American Enterprise Institute on congressional reform and the “people’s House.” And last week’s House GOP’s "Pledge to America" included plans to reform Congress with steps such as a three-day disclosure period before the House debates a bill and a more-open process for debating amendments.

Even in the scheduled final week of business, Republicans have taunted the majority party for the House’s uncertain schedule and the widely expected decision to postpone major issues until a “lame-duck” session. “It would be a real mistake to act after the election when the public will be speaking strongly, and Congress could subvert public opinion,” Dreier said.

But Democrats want to turn the tables in that exchange. Citing the GOP’s proposed 72-hour requirement for legislation, Doug Thornell — who is spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who serves as assistant to Pelosi — sought to give them a taste of their own prescription, “It’s less than 24 hours until we vote tomorrow and the American people haven’t seen what the Republicans plan to bring up. Isn’t that a broken promise?”

Dreier largely sought to avoid discussion of what actions a prospective new House GOP majority might take after the election. But he recounted that prospective Speaker Newt Gingrich called him the morning after the 1994 election to designate him to prepare a congressional-reform package, which ultimately was approved when Congress convened the following January.

“It was a full-time process for two months, with a lot of members,” Dreier recounted. “More than a few were not happy with the results. I dined alone after that.”

In their prepared report, the Rules Committee Republicans also criticized Democrats’ far more pervasive use the past two years of the “suspension” calendar that bars debate of amendments to bills plus the greater resort to “martial-law,” which shuts down the customary House procedures. Although Democrats respond that both parties have engaged in such procedures, Rules Committee aides said that Democrats have used those tactics more frequently and for more extended periods.

Although such details likely would be lost on most voters, Dreier said that expanded use of the “Blogosphere” has vastly increased public knowledge and unhappiness with congressional abuses.

Democrats Struggle To Define Own Agenda

House Democrats have spent the past week dismissing the Republican agenda, “A Pledge to America,” as a budget-busting, irresponsible return to the Bush era.

But what’s the Democratic agenda if they actually retain majorities in Congress?

They don’t seem to have a quick answer.

Some Democrats are in damage-control mode, barely able to look past Nov. 2. Others are defensive, believing they just need to do a better job of explaining to the American people what they’ve done on health care, financial reform and jobs bills.

The official word on the Democratic agenda, if you listen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is a vague promise to keep moving the country forward.

While defending an unpopular agenda, the idea of laying out a clear agenda for the 112th Congress is not yet taking hold, according to some Democrats.

“Not yet, not yet,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) when asked whether “moving forward” was a vision that’s resonating with voters. He said, “We’re so busy defending our record — and it is quite a record. If you look at what we accomplished, you may not like it; we have accomplished quite a bit in a very short period [of] time, as compared to the other end of the building.”

One Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about party strategy, said it would be an “overload” for the party to build a new agenda in addition to talking about the party’s accomplishments over the past year.

Any talk about the future, another House leadership aide said, would leave lawmakers “exposed” to attacks.

“Right now, a lot of our and Obama’s focus is minimizing the damage,” one Democratic lawmaker told POLITICO.

Instead of articulating an agenda, most Democrats are touting a historic health care bill that remains unpopular, a stimulus measure that didn’t affect unemployment as planned and a financial reform bill that has yet to have its intended impact.

In fact, front and center on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s website is a graphic about the party “moving America forward,” yet it touts the accomplishments of the past two years.

President Barack Obama has hinted that energy would be a priority in the next year, saying in a Rolling Stone interview that he is “committed to making sure that we get an energy policy that makes sense for the country and that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way.”

But energy — which quickly opens up questions about the politically toxic cap-and-trade issue — is not exactly driving the conversation on the 2010 campaign trail.

Other Democratic leaders talk vaguely about jobs, but do not offer long-term legislative ideas.

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democrats’ campaign chief, told POLITICO earlier this week that he would encourage candidates to talk about sustaining “the fragile recovery and then lead to greater economic growth in jobs in the future.” He then quickly pivoted to Democrats closing tax loopholes — a step that the party has already taken — and how Republicans objected.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer touts the Democrats’ “Make It in America” legislation, saying it’s an “agenda for the next Congress.” Yet some Democrats are concerned that slices of the agenda are protectionist and could result in trade rebukes from other countries. Still, the Maryland legislator says that agenda is his top priority for next Congress, along with investing in infrastructure, pursuing fiscal balance, focusing on national security and investing in education.

But if you corner rank-and-file Democrats in the Capitol and ask them what the party’s specific agenda is for next year should they keep the majority, you might get different answers.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), a nine-year veteran of Congress who represents South Boston, said his main priority is “getting people back to work” and working to right the nation’s fiscal posture. But he doesn’t think Democrats need their own pledge or contract, or anything like that.

“We run on what our record is. It’s appropriate; it’s our record, right?” Lynch said Wednesday. “It’s what we have done. Those are facts. Aspirations are more ephemeral, I guess.”

Pascrell, who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, wants to talk about new energy policy, tax reform and working on getting the “kinks out of the health bill.” He said, “I think we’re going to pay very careful attention to make sure they do what we — philosophically and politically — what we want it to do.”

And House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he wants to focus on ““what would happen if the Republicans were in charge in the next Congress.”

Some of the most vulnerable Democrats are sticking to local politics.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) said he’s campaigning on the rewriting of the farm bill, protecting cities in his home state like Fargo from floods and preventing a “foolish EPA move” that could set back the state’s thriving energy sector.

House Republicans, who went through their own painful phase of electoral fear and party disunity, seem to have coalesced around “A Pledge to America,” despite criticism from the left and the right.

“Washington Democrats know that the public rejects their job-killing agenda, but they don’t have any alternative,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner. “I guess they plan to run on ... nothing.”

Sources: PBS News, Politico, Youtube

No comments: