Major Garrett has been covering Congress for cable news outfits, newspapers and news magazines since 1990, when he was a reporter for The Washington Times. Now Fox News Channel’s congressional correspondent, Garrett spent Thursday on Capitol Hill, where the first Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in 12 years was sworn in. I called him to get his take on what changes and surprises we're likely to see this year in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House:
Q: Is this Democrat takeover of Congress really a big deal -- a historic deal?
A: It’s historic at two levels. One, for the first time in 12 years, Democrats will control the agenda in the House. Why does that matter? Well, we can’t spend a dollar or tax a dollar in America without first the consent of the House. So the party in control of the House says a lot about how we spend money and how we tax money in America.
Point two is, for the first time in American history the speaker will be a woman. It’s not just any woman. It’s Nancy Pelosi, Democrat from California. One of the articles of faith of gender-politics is that you split both sides evenly -- gender and politics. Yes, she is a woman, but also she has a political record, and Nancy Pelosi historically has been among the most liberal members of Congress. Last year, according to National Journal, her voting record was more liberal than 91 percent of her colleagues.
Q: Do you think this “takeover” will actually result in any important legislation?
A: I think there are a couple of things that will occur, most definitely. There will be some arrangement to raise the minimum wage. President Bush has already signaled that. Democrats want it. It’ll be up to Republicans and the White House to decide how much of a price they want Democrats to pay in terms of small-business tax breaks, but ultimately that’s going to get done. The president also wants to work on immigration. Because the Democrats are much closer to his immigration policy than many of his House Republican colleagues, I think that has a good chance of getting done.
Also, I think there is movement afoot to deal with Social Security -- not on the president’s terms, not on post-2004 election terms of personal accounts, but entirely on Democrat terms, meaning no personal accounts or maybe something that bears some ghostly resemblance to a personal account, but higher taxes or some rejiggering of benefits along a much more traditional line of quote-unquote “fixing” Social Security.
I can tell you Democrats and Republicans are moving in that direction, and the only ones who seem to be standing athwart of history screaming “stop,” as Bill Buckley once said famously, are free-market conservatives.