Last Fall, Democrats won enough seats to gain majorities in both the House and the Senate. In January, Rep. Nancy Pelosi took over as Speaker of the House and Harry Reid became Majority Leader in the Senate. As a result ___________. You fill in the blanks. I cannot.
True, there have been some minor victories such as an increase in the minimum wage. And Congress labored mightily on earmarks and lobbying reform, producing mice. True, the President was forced to accept benchmarks for Iraq before he ignored them. And General David Petraeus, the overall commander in Iraq, was forced to appear before Congress and present a slick sales job that gave members opportunities to make statements and avoid hard questioning. It is also true that major attempts to change course in Iraq and domestically (SCHIP) have been thwarted by Senate rules and Presidential vetoes. But on a whole, the results have been less than stellar and the public's opinion of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, reflects this.
To borrow a phrase, there is still time for the Democrats in Congress to be relevant. There are still two actions that could demonstrate intestinal fortitude and leadership. The most urgent is the confirmation of a new Attorney General Based on Congressional testimony to date. Judge Michael B. Mukasey is more dangerous to American democracy than was Alberto Gonzales. First, he is smarter - not a high hurdle - and more cagey than Gonzales. He can put together a coherent if terse answer. But his positions are frightening. When Gonzales was nominated, the key issues (torture, wiretapping, enforcing Congressional subpoenas, etc) were mostly theoretical. But now the issues are urgent and it appears that Judge Mukasey will support the same positions as Gonzales including that the President can ignore Congressional legislation. But his position will be stronger as he can claim to be coming from an "independent" position rather than as a long time flunky of the president. The torture issue is particularly ominous. He refused to state that water-boarding is torture as Senator John McCain and the military Judge Advocate Generals insist. Further, Mukasey appeared to say that he would give precedence to what officials in the field say they needed over the legal opinions of military lawyers. The Senate should not even consider the Mukasey nomination unless the latest torture policy memos are released to the Committee and Mukasey gives his legal opinion on them. True, the President can make a recess appointment. But Congress does not have to be compliant.
The second issue is, yet again, the war in Iraq. It is unlikely that enough Republicans will desert the President to force a change in course. The next best approach is to ensure that the costs of the war are not continually passed on to our children and grandchildren. Not a single dime of this war has been paid for. The entire cost, including the interest charges, has been debt funded. We rely on the Chinese, other Asian nations, Middle East countries and others to fund this credit card war. Rep. Obey's (D-Wis) proposal for a tax hike to pay for the war should be adopted by the Democrats in Congress. Every war supplemental should be accompanied by a tax to pay for it. The President should be told that he has the power to have his war. But Congress has the power to make him pay as he goes.
I believe that the nation, not just the Democratic Party will respond positively to both these expressions of leadership. They may represent the last chances for the country to see that Democratic control of Congress does make a difference.