The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are at work this week on a number of pieces of legislation, some important and some not so important. Our current president says they are not doing enough. It has been difficult for the Senate to pass a number of bills because of the filibuster tactics employed by the (almost majority) Republicans. The House has it a bit easier with the numbers but is regularly threatened with presidential veto of bills they try to pass.
Sometimes it is useful to look back to gain some perspective on the present state of legislative affairs and politics. In November of 2005 I wrote a post titled, “Dems’ opposition for the next 3 years”. Today’s post picks up where I left off on that discouraged day in 2005. I began with these (old post quotes in blue) and end with current commentary and links to today’s news in black italics):
The current state of public affairs is like “looking across the canyon” at those on the other side. I see that those currently in power – on the Republican side – in American politics are in some kind of big trouble. At this point Democratic leaders cannot afford to get lost in philosophy. There is a wide chasm – a void – in Republican leadership. The country is in trouble and the Loyal Opposition must step in. Citizens are ready for the Democrats to help fill in the gaps in adequate governance.
They can do a lot without actually being in the majority. . . What can Democrats do, if anything, with this current situation? What should they do? I look at behaviors. Effective opposition, until we can get a new president to replace the current failing one means, at a minimum, that Democratic and Independent leaders must behave in these ways:
- Support the forgotten middle class. . . the challenge Democrats face[d] in regaining the confidence of middle class voters. In fact the 2008 election probably rests on this very question. Presidential candidates are currently divided over what to do about soaring gasoline prices. Clinton and McCain want to suspend federal gas taxes for three months. Obama says it is unwise. Family grocery bills are also climbing rapidly and there is a world wide food crisis.
- Ask for sacrifices from the wealthy. . . budget reflects [then] the ideas of Independent Bernie Sanders]. In the last days of April 2008 campaigning in Indiana, Senator Obama argues that working and middle-class voters will benefit from his ideas about reforming government. By lessening the power of lobbyists, and increasing bipartisanship we can unify the country and change the economy.
- Remind critics that Republicans do not own patriotism. . . Congressional leaders . . . [then] on the importance of civil liberties, now in 2008, have shown mixed results. Only a few House Democrats so far have shown the ability to fight the administration’s massive civil liberties breaches by refusing to grant immunity to telecommunications companies being sued for illegal wiretapping. Negotiations continue with Republicans and the administration over what to do about the expired Protect America Act. Current authorizations under FISA continue into August.
- Pay attention to jobs and the economy. . . Unions and Democrats . . .  pay standards. The 110th Democratically controlled congress was able to increase the minimum wage in 2007. The economy has taken a big dive in 2008. Yesterday our current president held a news conference and blamed Congressional “delays” and failure to act for all the the problems. (The link is to the transcript).
- Propose solutions to ending the war in Iraq. . . ideas Dems are currently putting forth. These ideas were unsuccessful in 2005, in 2006, in 2007 and now 2008! Two more troops were just killed in Iraq, making April 2008 the deadliest month since last September 2007. A street battle in Sadr city raged for four hours, killing 34 militiamen.
- Fight for fiscal responsibility in government spending. . . [agencies] not properly spending the money appropriated. In 2008 the 110th Congress is still working on a number of appropriations bills. For example current negotiations are about adding billions of dollars for nutrition programs while maintaining extensive farm subsidies. How will it be financed?
- Expose wrong-doing by officials. . . members of the National Guard and Army Reserve. Yesterday, 4/29/08, “Worried” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton reported that the military is finally acknowledging serious problems with military readiness, including huge weapons program cost overruns. In another story (4/28/08) of wrong-doing, the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunals said they were tainted by political influence and evidence gotten through prisoner abuse.
- Exercise more Congressional oversight. . . Committee investigations. On the last day of April, 2008 we learn that Congress has a serious new oversight challenge. A new Bush policy will delay EPA chemical risk assessments as well as increase secrecy and risk to public health, according to the GAO.
- Create the climate for election victories in 2006. . . Upcoming elections . . . November are being contested vigorously, with Democrats having some chances for  victories. And they got victory in Congress in 2006. In 2008, yesterday Democratic Chairman Howard Dean stated that Senators Clinton or Obama will know when to pull out of the race in order to unify the party, warning that the chances of winning in November will diminish if that does not happen.
- Spotlight the best leaders at the state level. Governor Bill Richardson . . . took on a . . . role, trouble shooting. Now the governor is still doing diplomacy, meeting Saturday with Hugo Chavez in an effort to restart talks with Columbia’s FARC rebels who are still holding hostages. Governor Richardson’s candidacy for the presidency was not successful. His eventual endorsement of Senator Obama cost him his relationship with the Clintons, which makes him very sad. I predict that he will have a place in the Obama administration. Governor Mike Easley of North Carolina just endorsed Senator Clinton, probably not the best evidence of good leadership at the state level.
- Build the party’s grass roots organization. The Democratic Party has a 50 State Strategy, funding organizers in every state in the union. A decision by the Supreme Court yesterday, 4/29/08, will be a big blow to Democratic party’s grassroots voters. The ruling says that states can enforce a (yes) burdensome requirement for voters to present photo IDs before casting ballots, even though there was no evidence of voter fraud presented. Democrats are registering in record numbers, 1 million new voters for the last 7 primaries.
- Stay away from scandal; remember ethics. Any examples here [then]? Now Senator Ron Wyden may have struck a blow against a continuing scandal and for government ethics by revealing the most recent Justice Department claims that the Geneva Conventions may not apply to terrorism suspects. Wyden calls the claim “stunning.”
- Finish mending fences within the party. Any news on this issue [then]? Now Democrats have two core constituencies, African Americans and wealthy liberals, who are afraid that a long fight for the presidential nomination will do irreversible harm to the party by building a racial divide.
In summary, my current perspective is a mixture of discouragement and encouragement. I feel discouraged as a retired member of the Middle Class who is still highly disadvantaged against a small minority of wealthy people, few of whom have sacrificed anything. I feel discouraged that Barack Obama’s lapel flag pin is still a subject of discussion, and that the war in Iraq is still going on taking thousands of lives and draining the treasury. I feel discouraged about the economy and the fact that our paid-for home is declining in value. I feel encouraged about Democratic congressional majorities. And it is encouraging that some Democrats in Congress are at least making small attempts to “pay for” their legislative proposals, and holding up legislation that would be bad for the country. I feel encouraged that some of our worst officials have left the administration in disgrace and that evidence of massive official wrong-doing has been exposed by congressional investigation or whistle-blowers. I feel discouraged that Michigan and Florida exercised poor leadership regarding state primary dates, throwing the outcome into question. I feel encouraged that relatively few Democrats elected officials have had to go home in disgrace, unlike their Republican counterparts. And I feel encouraged about the Democratic party’s two fine candidates, about their millions of new members, and the good leadership of Howard Dean who built the grass roots and referees with considerable evenhanded skill during these challenging times. And I feel encouraged that our current president only has 264 more days in office.
View my current slide show about the Bush years — “Millennium” — at the bottom of this column.
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)
My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.