Paul Jacob

Americans voted for change. So, why does the incoming Congress kick up enough déjà vu to set Denzel Washington spinning all over again?

We’ve seen these guys before — both Democrats and Republicans.

Sure, candidate after candidate ran as a “change agent.” And Americans voted to change party control over both chambers of Congress. The new Congress will even begin by making history with the nation’s first female Speaker of the House.

Yet, will the election really make much difference at all? Will it actually change anything about who rules America?

Within weeks after the election, leaders of both parties signaled “business as usual” on Capitol Hill. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi had barely caught her breath after talking about high ethical standards when she came out in support of the ethically challenged Rep. John Murtha for Majority Leader over Rep. Steny Hoyer . . . who ultimately won the post.

Of course, a pretext with Congressman Steny Hoyer as the “reform” candidate is laughable. (Since I don’t like to cry.) You might recall that a couple years ago Mr. Hoyer bitterly condemned what he called “back alley” GOP tactics that were “running roughshod over the most basic principles of democracy.”

Hoyer was mostly correct about the GOP tactics. But then, a reporter at Hoyer’s news conference asked him if he was pledging that Democrats, should they take control, would resist similar tactics.

“I am not,” responded Hoyer . . . to hoots and howls.

On the other hand, one would expect a major GOP shake-up after their disastrous election performance. But except for Speaker-to-Go Dennis Hastert, who took himself out of any leadership consideration, the Republican House leaders are largely the same — their ears clearly marked from their busy congressional work of past years.

Just weeks ago I regaled Townhall readers with some of the shady dealings of Senator Harry Reid, who now deals himself in as Democratic Majority Leader. And back by popular demand — at least within the Senate Democratic Caucus — is former Ku Klux Klan organizer and current Senator Robert Byrd, who will serve as President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

This puts the 89-year-old Byrd third in the line of succession to the presidency. President Robert Byrd?

With so much focus on earmarks, on pork-barrel spending by Congress, it is interesting that this momentous election had the effect of replacing the 83-year old Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (42 years in Congress) with the more elderly Byrd (54 years in Congress). If there were a Championship Pork Bowl, it would no doubt feature Stevens against Byrd. With nurses at the ready.

Senate Democrats tell us on their website: “As President pro tempore, Senator Byrd will continue to provide the Democratic Caucus leadership and experience gained from a lifetime of public service."

A “lifetime” of public service? Really? Are Senate Democrats telling us that when Robert Byrd was organizing a chapter of the racist, violent Ku Klux Klan that he was performing a public service?

I beg to differ. I demand an apology.

Which brings us to the Senate GOP and the return of Trent Lott.

After getting their clocks cleaned like their partners in the House, Senate Republicans also decided to stay the course. (Let’s give them something for consistency.) To his credit, Majority Leader Bill Frist stepped down, keeping his self-imposed term limits pledge. But Republican senators simply elevated Whip Mitch McConnell to Minority Leader and elected Mississippi Senator Trent Lott to serve as the new Senate Minority Whip.

In leadership, there remain no serious free-market voices, no conservatives, no reformers. One would have to conclude it is a great stroke of luck that these Republicans are in the minority . . . until one looks at the majority. Especially the incoming committee chairs.

Already, New York Congressman Charles Rangel has announced he’ll again introduce legislation to draft our sons and daughters into the military. Rangel, who will head the enormously powerful House Ways and Means Committee, doesn’t seem to care that the all-volunteer force is the best military in the world. He wants a military that will help prevent war by placing political pressure on lawmakers. Like himself.

But there’s more to this story. Rangel has introduced this bill before. When it was brought up for a vote he cried foul and voted against his own bill. Apparently, this bill is not designed to be enacted but, more humbly, serve to keep the not-very-humble Rangel on TV talk shows.

A few incoming committee chairmen appear a tad more serious. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the 80-year-old, 51-year congressional veteran who will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, whose 26-year congressional career makes him a relative rookie as chairman of the Financial Services Committee. The two men are already fighting over real power, the power to regulate the Securities and Exchange Committee and Wall Street.

And Rep. Henry Waxman, incoming chairman of the Government Reform Committee, complains he cannot decide where to begin in launching hearings and investigations. There’s little doubt the federal government needs investigation and little doubt, too, unfortunately, that Waxman and others in the congressional cesspool will investigate not for the people, but according to their partisan prerogatives.

True, it remains to be seen what the new Congress will do. But what is already clear is that, as far as caucus leaders and committee chairs, this isn’t a new Congress, but a much older one.

The new Democrat committee chairmen in the House have, on average, been in Congress a whopping 27 years. In the Senate, it’s even worse, with the average new Senate chair having already served 30 years in the Congress. That’s the average tenure, mind you.

Here I could insert the unmistakable truth that we need term limits. But that only points to the larger problem we face: Congress won’t do what the American people want, on term limits and so many other issues, because they do not represent us.

They represent themselves. They represent their party’s leadership, their friends, their special-interest friends. But not us.

Congress didn’t represent the American people when Democrats were in control; it didn’t represent us when Republicans held the gavels; and this new Congress has no intention of representing the people come January.

After citizens made a massive statement for change at the polls, we don’t even get “the new boss, same as the old boss.” We just get the old boss.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.