Posted by: Randy Allgaier | May 24, 2007

Democratic Disappointment

I was hopeful when the Democrats took control of Congress. I was thrilled when my Congressional Representative became Speaker of the House. I felt that the tide was about to change. I really thought that things would change. Sadly that has not been the case on two key issues- Iraq and Ethics Reform and I am a disappointed.

I realize that governing is compromise or nothing gets done and maybe, just maybe- if the Democrats had a veto proof majority in the House and the Senate- they would be able to pass legislation and funding that was in keeping with their word. But I believe that the Democratic Leadership rolled over too quickly on these two issues.

Let’s take Ethics Reform first. My biggest disappointment here is that some members of the Democratic Caucus did not want to support some of the vigorous components of a bill that would have lived up to Speaker Pelosi’s pledge last fall that a new Democratic majority would “drain the swamp” in Congress by breaking the link between lawmakers and lobbyists. She tried to pass lobbying reforms but she faced strong resistance from a surprising corner — her veteran Democratic colleagues.

Within the Democratic caucus several longtime lawmakers objected to the effort to force lobbyists to disclose when they “bundled” campaign checks, which they argued would make it harder to raise money. Bundling gives lobbyists a good amount of their clout. Members also complained about the “revolving door” provision requiring members to wait two years after leaving office before they can lobby Congress.

So the Democrats hammered out a deal and dropped the revolving-door provision and agreed to propose the check-bundling measure as an amendment to the bill on the House floor.

“It’s not a very impressive performance by the Democratic caucus that promised to make this Congress the cleanest in history,” said Craig Holman, the campaign finance lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. “It was distressing to see the Democratic leadership work out a deal where they dropped the revolving-door provisions in exchange for getting the old bull Democrats to sign onto the bundling disclosure provisions.” The reason why the revolving-door measure was dropped is pretty simple- 43 percent of lawmakers registered as lobbyists left Congress between 1998 and 2006, according to a Public Citizen study. “A good number of members of Congress and high-ranking staffers see lobbying as their next career move,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. “They believe that money is going to pay off their debts and put their kids through college. They don’t want to give it up.”

While I am proud that Speaker Pelosi really tried to get some reform with teeth, the fact that Democrats and most Republicans were unwilling to go there is frustrating. Yes- it’s a first step. But it is like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house. No true reform ethics reform (or campaign reform for that matter) will ever happen as long as Congress is in charge of policing itself.

Now on to Iraq. The House passed Thursday night a $120 billion war-spending bill that does not set dates for making adjustments in our Iraq policy and redeploying our troops. One of the primary reasons that the Democrats took control of Congress was because the American people are fed up with this war and wanted the Democrats to find a way to extricate us from this quagmire.

President Bush vetoed the first war funding bill earlier this month, because it contained timetables for removing U.S. troops from Iraq, a provision pushed by Democrats and some Republicans. As they were faced with continued White House opposition after the veto, the Democratic leadership agreed to drop the withdrawal language so the spending bill could be moved by Memorial Day when they go on recess.

Yes- the current bill contains a set of political benchmarks that the Iraqi government should meet to keep U.S. reconstruction aid flowing, the president must submit reports in July and September indicating progress in meeting those goals and for the first time, explicitly states that U.S. forces would leave Iraq if asked by the Baghdad government, I don’t think this is why the American people voted for change in 2006. They wanted something stronger.

Here too- politics played too much of a role. Former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards has rightfully said that Congress should have remained committed to their original bill and put the onus of not funding our troops for their current operations on the president since he continues to vow vetoes. The Democrats were too afraid of being characterized as unsupportive of our troops to take this stand and take the risk.

In both cases the Democratic leadership was too quick to compromise. Maybe if they had continued to hold their ground- they would have been able to gain more of their own agenda into both of ethics reform and war funding.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Democratic Leadership should have become as intransigent as “The Decider”, but they shouldn’t roll over right away like a submissive puppy.

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