Congress vis-a-vis the White House

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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.

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