100 hours in America
In 1994, the Democrats lost control of a Congress awash in the same kind of scandals, unabashed cronyism, unmitigated fraud and unwarranted arrogance that were the Republicans’ downfall this past November. For years, there has been a slowly mounting chorus of voices clamoring for a change in what has been described as the Washington “culture of corruption.” So just like before, the American electorate has “thrown the bums out.” It’s a whole circle of life thing.
Now, with the election behind them, the Democrats can turn their attention to governing, but caution may be the word of the day. The essential fact is, they didn’t win so much as the Republicans, and Bush in particular, lost. With that in mind, Americans can only hope that they live up to their promises and prove to the nation that there is an antidote to the right-wing, demagogic hate machine that has for 12 years eroded our economy, our personal freedoms, our well-being and our national and domestic security.
Going into the election, it wasn’t clear if the Democrats would be able to effect much meaningful change even if successful in their efforts. Most analysts expected them to take the House, but the Senate, they said, would remain in the grip of the Republicans, resulting in gridlock. But with a narrow victory in the Senate and a strong margin in the House, the Democrats are now in a position to push many of their initiatives forward.
Leading the charge is Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be Speaker of the House. She intends to announce broad changes within the first 100 hours of the new Congressional session and has promised to bring an end to what she terms the “rich mans’ welfare state.” So what exactly is on the docket for the first 100 hundred hours of the 110th Congress?
The first 24 hours: Under Republican rule, lobbying in Washington has grown to grotesque proportions. There are over 35,000 lobbyists in DC “buying” legislation at an estimated $200 million a month. Lobbying has sparked countless scandals and cost several members of Congress their careers, if not their freedom. The Republican majority has repeatedly blocked measures designed to curtail lobbying. Because of this, the Democrats have said that they will put new rules in place to “break the link between lobbyists and legislation.” This, they say, will help end the stranglehold that the Jack Abramoff/Tom DeLay K Street gang has had on the policy process.
The second 24 hours: To date, less than 50 percent of the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations have been implemented, leaving ports, power plants, planes and us vulnerable. The Democrats plan to remedy this by enacting ALL of the remaining recommendations. “They [Republicans] claim to be the party of national security, yet they have failed to implement these vital recommendations to ensure the safety of our nation and our people,” John Kerry said during a recent interview with the Associated Press.
The third 24 hours: In June, the minimum wage was raised to $6.50 an hour – the first increase since Bill Clinton was President. Meanwhile the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar has been on a steady decline (bad economic policy, an unpopular war, diminished manufacturing output and John Bolton’s mustache are all contributing factors). The Democratic leadership promises to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, although it isn’t clear if they have the votes necessary to do this all at once. In addition to the minimum wage, they also have proposed cutting the interest rate on student loans in half.
The last 28 hours: Here is where the wheels start to come off the wagon. As part of a larger national health plan initiative, the Democrats want to pass legislation that would allow the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients. The problem is there are all sorts of legal issues, including limitations on Congressional intervention that arise out of NAFTA and varying interpretations of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, not to mention a plethora of insurance and pharma lobbyists determined to block this type of legislation. Taken in order, however, if the Dems accomplish their “day one” mission, the lobbyists won’t be a problem. And since President Bush has taken to using the Constitution to pick up after Barney, his dog, they may have an easier time with this than appearances would suggest. Political will is the key; if the Dems intend to address the pharmaceutical divide, they may have to prepare for a lengthy legal battle.
Beyond the initial slate of measures, Pelosi, Harry Reid and many senior Democrats propose broadening stem cell research initiatives and allowing the use of federal funding for it. Additionally, they intend to institute a “pay as you go” policy for government spending. That means no deficit increases to fund any new initiatives – Republican or Democratic. Pelosi admits that this would require a rollback of the Bush tax cuts for some individuals – most likely those earning over $200,000 a year. While details are still being worked out, the Democrats have suggested that the tax structure will be similar to that of the Clinton era. However, Pelosi has been quick to emphasize that Democrats intend to work with the Republicans to find solutions with which both sides can live.
The issues on the table are going to be hard to fight for the Republicans that survived the mid-term bloodletting; even President Bush has been falling all over himself in an effort to appear genial. It is clear that there is a new direction coming, but power politics and bitter rivalries could overshadow best intentions. For the Democrats to be successful in the coming years it will take more than a good plan; it will require real actions and the ability to set aside partisan differences. That’s exactly the type of leadership Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats say they intend to bring to Washington. Promises have been made before, but maybe this time, and this Congress, will be different. VS