Hia­tus on the Hill

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Congress has re­cessed for the month of Au­gust and, as an 18th-cen­tury critic once said, our lib­er­ties and for­tunes are safe for the time be­ing.

The so-called full­time leg­is­la­ture de­parted for their an­nual, month-long, paid vacation with its Demo­cratic lead­ers crow­ing about its achieve­ments. But their medi­ocre midterm record, with all of their po­lit­i­cal hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing aside, shows they ac­com­plished lit­tle, leav­ing be­hind a pile of pork-filled ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills, a moun­tain of un­fin­ished work on prob­lems rang­ing from en­ergy to health care, and a poi­sonous po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere.

“The pres­i­dent has signed vir­tu­ally noth­ing be­cause vir­tu­ally noth­ing has got­ten to his desk,” re­marked Mis­souri Rep. Roy Blunt, the sec­ond-rank­ing House Repub­li­can. This doesn’t means they haven’t been busy. A high per­cent­age of the bills they passed were to name post of­fices af­ter VIPs — at least 15 of them by my count.

Much of its time has been spent on po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions, bet­ter known as fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions — more than 300 by last count. Their tar­gets: The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war­rant­less in­ter­cepts of ter­ror­ist com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Pres­i­dent Bush’s dis­missal of nine U.S. at­tor­neys when their terms ended, and whether the at­tor­ney gen­eral had bro­ken any laws or eth­i­cal rules in car­ry­ing out the White House’s law en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties.

Sub­poe­nas were is­sued for the pres­i­dent’s clos­est aides and ad­vis­ers, in vi­o­la­tion of the sep­a­ra­tion-of-pow­ers doc­trine. Threats were hurled at them about per­jury, con­tempt of Congress and worse. But af­ter the smoke cleared, the Democrats had failed to turn up a shred of ev­i­dence that any­one had bro­ken any law.

The spec­ta­cle of the Democrats play­ing pol­i­tics with the reins of power to gain an ad­van­tage in the 2008 elec­tions was not what vot­ers had in mind when they put them back in charge of the House and Se­nate. Their pub­lic ap­proval plunged as a re­sult, be­low even that of Pres­i­dent Bush’s low rat­ings.

This is not to say the Democrats didn’t en­act any­thing. They did pass a small hand­ful of im­por­tant bills, but only af­ter ac­cept­ing Mr. Bush’s ob­jec­tions to them. In­deed, the White House won most of the ma­jor leg­isla­tive bat­tles of the year.

The first min­i­mum wage raise in a decade passed early in the year. This was a du­bi­ous pro­posal that will elim­i­nate en­try level jobs. But Mr. Bush in­sisted it con­tain off­set­ting small busi­ness tax breaks, some­thing Democrats were loath to do. They even­tu­ally caved to White House de­mands.

The Democrats promised to im­ple­ment all re­main­ing Septem­ber 11 com­mis­sion rec­om­menda- tions, but pulled back from that pledge, too. Mr. Bush got most of the changes he wanted and the bill, in­clud­ing screen­ing of all air cargo, has be­come law.

De­spite the Democrats’ fire and fury over Mr. Bush’s war­rant­less spy­ing on ter­ror­ist com­mu­ni­ca­tions, he got what he wanted there, too, al­beit for six months. The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union Democrats fought it tooth and nail, cit­ing pri­vacy rights, but fear­ing they would be tagged as soft on ter­ror­ism in 2008, the bill flew through both houses and Mr. Bush hap­pily signed it this week.

The Iraq war and the Democrats’ ef­forts to leg­is­late a troop with­drawal dom­i­nated Congress’ at­ten­tion for much of the past year, but here again Mr. Bush won ev­ery round. The House up­held his veto of a war spend­ing bill that con­tained a pull­out dead­line, as po­lit­i­cal pres­sure mounted on them to fund our troops in harm’s way.

Un­der re­lent­less pound­ing by Mr. Bush and the Repub­li­cans, Democrats were forced to pass a clean bill in May to fi­nance the war, with­out any with­drawal time­line. The Democrats’ an­ti­war, ap­pease­ment-at-any-price foot sol­diers were ou­traged by the cave-in and their sup­port plunged in the polls.

A sweep­ing ethics and lobby re­form bill also was sent to the pres­i­dent’s desk.

Other bills at var­i­ous stages in the leg­isla­tive process face veto threats: an en­ergy bill that raises taxes on the oil in­dus­try but pro­duces no new en­ergy; a health­care as­sis­tance bill that also cov­ers mid­dle class chil­dren; a $20 bil­lion, over-bud­get wa­ter projects bill; and a bud­get-bust­ing farm sub­sidy bill.

Ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills are stack­ing up for Congress’ re­turn, and the White House sus­pects Democrats will in the end send Mr. Bush a fat om­nibus spend­ing bill and dare him to veto it. Se­nior pres­i­den­tial aides tell me he will do so if it ex­ceeds his spend­ing lim­its.

The last seven months of Demo­cratic rule have been any­thing but su­per­pro­duc­tive. Nor have they been united over the war on ter­ror­ism — even on whether it should be called a war.

They cer­tainly haven’t im­proved the tone and tem­per of con­gres­sional de­lib­er­a­tions. Ci­vil­ity is at its low­est ebb ever in both cham­bers. A par­ti­san ma­neu­ver last week that smacked of dirty tricks cut short a House roll call on a Repub­li­can amend­ment that ended the vot­ing be­fore all votes were cast. Repub­li­can law­mak­ers stormed out of the cham­ber cry­ing “shame, shame.”

The Democrats’ strong-arm tac­tics and po­lit­i­cal mean­ness raises fur­ther doubts about their per­for­mance thus far, pos­ing this ques­tion for the vot­ers in 2008: Can they gov­ern?

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.