Sometimes it’s a close question as to whether the leaders of the House are more arrogant or more stupid. The combination of the two is deadly.
The arrogance stems from a deep-seated conviction that state-by-state gerrymandering has made it impossible for the Republican Party to lose the majority in the House. The stupidity is demonstrated by their refusal to take the two steps that could give their beleaguered members some kind of political cover as they run for reelection: lobbying reform and a minimum-wage increase.
But the arrogance is misplaced. The Republicans can, indeed, lose the House.
In the 2004 election, GOP congressional candidates polled three percentage points more than their Democratic opponents, but current polling suggests that the Democratic margin, this time, will be between eight and 12 points higher. If those numbers hold up — and Bush’s low favorability virtually assures that they will — there is every reason to believe that the Republicans could lose control. Remember that there are seven GOP retirements in the House from marginal seats and that 16 incumbent Republicans were elected in 2004 with less than 55 percent of the vote.
In the Senate, the five endangered Republicans — Mike DeWine (Ohio), Jim Talent (Mo.), Rick Santorum (Pa.), Conrad Burns (Mont.) and Lincoln Chaffee (R.I.) — may go down as Bush’s popularity hovers in the mid-30s. And relief is not likely as Democrats will probably win New Jersey and Washington state, blue states that they are. It may all come down to Tennessee in the Senate.
Given their slender electoral chances, the failure of the House and Senate to pass significant lobbying reform can only be explained by a colossal arrogance and a total, druglike dependence on lobbyist favors. But the minimum-wage bill?
Nothing could so permit Republican candidates to cut the ground out from under their Democratic opponents than to pass this seminal piece of liberal legislation. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) did more to rescue the post-government-shutdown Republicans in 1996 when he let the last increase go through. The bill to raise the wage by $2.10 over three years gives Republicans a solid accomplishment, demonstrating their concern for the working poor.
By defeating the increase — and even more by tying it to further estate-tax relief — the Republicans give their Democratic opponents talking points with which to beat them over the head. No American will fail to see the heartlessness in denying hardworking people a wage of $7, nor will they fail to understand the priorities of a party that will only grant this pittance to the poor if they can raise the estate-tax exemption to $5 million!