S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How is the U.S. Congress doing?

Headline: "Democrats push domestic front" - The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are about to leave for an August recess. Juan Cole reports that the Iraqi Parliament is also on vacation. Josephine Hearn, writing for (7/29/07) provided a rather good story on what is currently happening in our Congress. To quote from the story following my opening headline,

After a spring and early summer dominated by the Iraq war, congressional Democrats are at last pounding out accomplishments on the domestic front, hoping to boost dismal approval ratings for Congress and avoid a “do-nothing” label as they head into the August recess.

Last week’s achievements in agriculture, lobbying reform and homeland security will give Democrats something positive to bring up with voters during the month-long break. . . . The lobbying bill negotiated last week requires news disclosure of fundraising activities while the anti-terrorism bill passed Friday enacts many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

. . . The week ahead will see another flurry of activity, with plans for Democrats to expand children’s health insurance and pass energy and defense bills. . . On other bills, though, Democrats adopted a bipartisan approach to speed legislation through Congress. The anti-terrorism bill passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 371 to 40 after Democrats dropped provisions that would have drawn the ire of Republicans, including one allowing collective bargaining by Transportation Security Administration screeners.
Headline: Republican corruption investigated - Today brings another (not surprising) Republican lawmaker scandal. I have to admit I can find little sympathy for the Senator's problems. Yahoo! News/AP's Dan Joling headlined, "FBI, IRS search home of Senator Ted Stevens" (8/31/07).

Federal agents searched the home of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens on Monday, focusing on records related to his relationship with an oil field services contractor jailed in a public corruption investigation, a law enforcement official said.

. . . The Justice Department's probe into Allen's relationships has led to charges against state lawmakers and contractors. Last year, FBI raids on the offices of several Alaska lawmakers included Stevens' son, former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens.
Headline: "Critics claim ethics bill watered down." Even though many newly elected lawmakers were swept into office in 2006 on a wave of "throw the rascals out" voter sentiment, it is hard for Congress to discipline itself. Chris Frates at writes (on 7/30/07) in more detail about pending ethics reform legislation. To quote,

Drawing particular scrutiny were two provisions that would force lawmakers to disclose their requested earmarks and their lobbyist bundlers.

Lawmakers changed the earmark disclosure process and raised the threshold from $5,000 to $15,000 for reporting campaign contributions raised by lobbyists.

. . . Though hurdles remain, passage of the legislation also could provide a big credibility boost for a congressional majority at least as unpopular with voters as President Bush.

. . . Senate Democrats complained that DeMint's obstruction forced them to rewrite the bill with the House.
Former lawmakers' opinions about how Congress is doing - Former leading Texas Democrat Martin Frost was a well respected member of Congress until he got caught in the DeLay Texas redistricting machinations of 2006. Martin Frost's Congressional leadership assessment should matter more to thinking people than Tom DeLay's*. DeLay was dismissed in disgrace. Now about all Delay can manage is a few appearances on TV's (unthinking) political shows and a little blog. carried recent guest columns by both men (7/23/07). Texas Rep Frost opined that Democratic leaders have been remarkably successful "under difficult circumstances." The headline reads - "Frost: Pelosi, Reid deserve high marks." To quote some Frost specifics:

The deadlock over immigration was a Republican failure, plain and simple. To describe it any other way is demagoguery in the greatest Tom DeLay tradition.

. . . bringing an end to our involvement in Iraq. Pelosi and Reid have skillfully handled this issue so that it is now clear to the public that the only thing standing in the way of an orderly change in policy is an incredibly blind and wrong-headed president. . . . Instead, Pelosi and Reid kept their respective caucuses united in favor of a series of benchmarks and deadlines for ultimate U.S. withdrawal. . . . now the stage is set for a real showdown in September over war funding.

Given the Democrats' small majorities in both the Senate and the House, the party leadership's handling of this explosive issue has been masterful and "just right."

. . . They kept the heat on until the president finally accepted a significant increase in the minimum wage . . . Congress passed a budget resolution for the next fiscal year on time this spring . . . on time. . . And both houses passed significant ethical reforms.

. . . Democrats in the Senate have already passed significant energy legislation, and hopefully the House will soon follow suit. Democratic leaders also are making progress on legislation reauthorizing "No Child Left Behind" and our nation's farm support programs.

None of this has been easy, but Reid and Pelosi deserve high marks for their first six months in office.
*Tom DeLay writes (on 7/23/07) at that the "Democratic Congress is a failure." I include this quote only to "remain fair and balanced:"

In sum, the style, substance and management of the new Democrat majority has been an abject failure. The leaders do not lead. The back-benchers do not follow. They have no unified agenda. They espouse no underlying principles. It's a good thing their presidential candidates are having such substantive debates.
My own congressional report card contains mostly grades of "B" (for domestic legislation), and "C" (for the war in Iraq), as well as an occasional "A" (for leadership tactics). On this I agree with my former Congressman, Martin Frost.
Links: Cross posted at The Reaction.
My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is a "meme on me."
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