Monday, February 19, 2007
Democrats or Autocrats?
And a big reason this charge stuck was because of the dictatorial, banana-republican way Hastert, DeLay and company ran the place, preventing Democrats from offering amendments, shutting them out of conference committee meetings, while literally opening the door to special interests lobbyists to write bills for them.
One would have assumed, then, that the new Democratic majority would have been extra careful to live up to their promises to behave more fairly and more openly, and avoid ceding the moral high ground they worked so hard to claim.
So far, not so good.
As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, of nine major bills passed by the House since the 110th Congress began, Republicans have been allowed to make amendments to just one, a measure directing federal research into additives to biofuels.
And last week, according to the Post, "the strong-arming continued during the most important debate the Congress has faced yet -- the discussion about the Iraq war. Democrats initially said they would allow Republicans to propose one alternative to the resolution denouncing a troop buildup but, days later, they thought better of it."
The Post story -- which ran under the damning headline, "In Majority, Democrats Run Hill Much as GOP" -- went on to ask and almost answer the question of whether the Democrats have a hypocrisy problem on their hands:
Some say Democrats risk being accused of the same abuse of power that Republicans were charged with when they were running Capitol Hill. Republicans became notorious for tactics such as prolonging a roll call vote for three hours in order to round up enough Republicans to pass a bill or failing to notify Democratic members of committee meetings or negotiating sessions.This is hardly a mortal threat to the new majority, which has much bigger tests to pass going forward. But the Democratic leadership would be wise to treat this carping as an early warning of a low-grade fever and take steps to prevent it from spreading into conventional wisdom.
"They're on thin ice now," Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said of the new Democratic leaders. "I'm getting uneasy about this lack of amendments. . . . They're getting to the point where you're past the initial period where you've got an excuse to operate with a firm hand. It's going to be increasingly difficult to rationalize."
The Pelosi regime had a passable excuse for hustling through their 100-hours agenda -- most of those bills had been committeed to death under the GOP leadership. And they won't pay much of a price for limiting debate on the Iraq resolution, given the overwhelming opposition to the war.
But I am concerned that if the Democratic leadership continues on this anti-democratic course, they will not only smudge a bright line of distinction between the parties, but eventually put the "abuse of power" club back in the hands of our opponents -- and potentially the Speaker's gavel with it.
Now let me be clear. I am not equating Pelosi with her predecessors -- there is a big difference between limiting amendments and selling off the Capitol to the highest bidder. But the reality is that given the high standard the Democrats set for themselves in the last campaign, there is a long way for them to fall if they feed the perception that they are engaging in the same repressive tactics as the Republicans.
Ruling more freely will cause some pain in the short-term -- there will inevitably be some modestly-embarrassing losses. But the long-term gain we will reap -- call it the integrity dividend -- will be more than worth it. We will show that we not only can win on a level playing field, but that we deserve the voters continued trust. That's the recipe for more majority.
My blog is almost as popular, and I've never given the address to anyone.