Congress vis-a-vis the White House
Some Republicans and their conservative allies are searching for solace from the midterm elections. In an exercise of complete self-delusion, they are finding it in the fact that Republican losses this year were not much different from the postwar trend for midterm elections during the sixth year of a two-term presidency.
With five recount-related House races still to be decided (Republicans lead in all of them) and with two runoffs scheduled for December (the one in Louisiana involves two Democrats), Democrats have already picked up 30 seats, not much different from the postwar average of 28 House seats lost by the party occupying the White House. The Democrats captured six seats in the Senate, closely approximating the postwar average gain of 5.5 seats by the party not occupying the White House. The “Sixth-Year Swoon,” according to Congressional Quarterly, breaks down as follows — Truman, 1950: 29 House seats, six Senate seats; Eisenhower, 1958: 47, 13; Kennedy-Johnson, 1966: 47, 3; NixonFord, 1974: 43, 3; Reagan, 1986: 5, 8; Clinton, 1998: five House seats gained, zero Senate seats lost.
In fact, there is no solace to be had from conforming to the average. Indeed, the 2006 second-term midterm elections represented the first time in postwar history that the party holding the presidency lost control of both chambers of Congress. (The 1994 elections occurred during Bill Clinton’s first term.) Moreover, during the six previous postwar sixth-year midterms, control of either chamber changed party hands only once. That was in 1986, when Republicans lost the Senate. Even after the thumpings Democrats received in 1950 and 1966, they maintained their majorities in both chambers. After Republicans got clobbered in 1958 and 1974, their minority status in each chamber simply worsened.
Remember what happened to the Reagan presidency after Republicans lost the Senate in 1986? Nine days following the 1986 elections, President Reagan acknowledged selling arms to Iran. Less than two weeks later, Attorney General Edwin Meese revealed that profits from the Iranian arms sales were secretly diverted to the Contra rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government. With Democrats in total control of Congress, the wrenching Iran-Contra investigation smothered the White House for the rest of Mr. Reagan’s presidency.
The Democratic minority relentlessly argued during the past four years that the Republican-controlled Congress abdicated the legislative branch’s wartime oversight responsibilities. Now, armed with subpoena power in both chambers, Democrats investigating prewar intelligence and post-invasion military opera- tions will present the White House with nightmares much worse than imagined as recently as three weeks ago — when the pre-election conventional wisdom held that Republicans would likely retain control of the Senate.
Rep. Ike Skelton, the moderate incom- ing House Armed Services Committee chairman, signaled his intentions when he identified his priorities as “oversight, oversight, oversight.” After being throttled by Steny Hoyer in the Democratic caucus election for majority leader, John Murtha let it be known that he will be using his perch as chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee to wield his opposition to the Iraq war. The next day, USA Today reported that the administration will be seeking a war-related supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal year that could total as much as $160 billion. On top of the $70 billion already approved, the appropriations for the costs of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq could approach a quarter of a trillion dollars in fiscal 2007 alone. After serving as ranking member of the Government Reform Subcommit- tee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, Dennis Kucinich, arguably the most antiIraq-war member of Congress, could become chairman next year with the power to issue subpoenas. Presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may well make good on her threat to name Rep. Alcee Hastings as the chairman of the intelligence Committee. That would mean the Bush administration’s most senior intelligence officials would be statutorily obligated to divulge the nation’s most sensitive intelligence secrets, including policies involving wiretaps, to a man (Mr. Hastings) whom Mrs. Pelosi (and 412 other House members) voted to impeach for, among other things, leaking information from a wiretap he was overseeing as a federal judge.
In earlier postwar Republican administrations (e.g., the last six years of the Eisenhower presidency and during much of the Nixon-Ford era), Southern conservative Democrats dominated the chairmanships of many important House and Senate committees. Also, during the first six years of the Reagan presidency, Republican control of the Senate offset many of the extreme liberal tendencies pursued by left-wing House committee chairmen. Now, during the final two years of the Bush administration, the most liberal members of both congressional chambers will be in charge. In the House, Rep. Barney Frank will chair Financial Services; Rep. Henry Waxman, the legendary investigator, will head Government Reform; Rep. Charlie Rangel will chair Ways and Means; Rep. John Conyers, who ran for re-election on an impeach-the-president platform, will chair Judiciary; Rep. Louise Slaughter will lead Rules; Rep. David Obey will wield the gavel at Appropriations; Rep. Bennie Thompson will be in charge of Homeland Security. While Rep. John Dingell, the universally feared investigator who will once again chair Energy and Commerce, is not as liberal as the others, the 80-year-old lawmaker has spent the last 12 years in the minority pining for the subpoena power that he ruthlessly exercised for years.
In the Senate, Barbara Boxer, arguably the most liberal senator, will replace Sen. James Inhofe, one of the chamber’s biggest conservatives, as chairman of Environment and Public Works. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who buried many judicial nominees in committee during 2001 and 2002, will no doubt do the same once again at Judiciary. Sen. Carl Levin, a big opponent of the Iraq war, takes over Armed Services. Sen. Joe Biden will be running for president as chairman of Foreign Relations, and Sen. Ted Kennedy will rule over Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The partisan, antiwar agenda is obvious.