Paul Jacob

However Obama and Congress come up with the cash for a short-term stimulus, it will be later, always later, for the dose of fiscal discipline. Even those who remain goo-goo eyed over Obama must recognize how difficult it is to speak of fiscal discipline and Congress in the same sentence.

Sure, weeks ago this column discussed the audacity and arrogance of the old Congress taking a pay raise — but what about this new Congress?

In its first week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats changed the rules to repeal their own biggest reform from last session, scrapped term limits on powerful committee chairman and eviscerated the minority’s right to be heard.

As part of the majority’s new rules package, Democrats embraced the practice of holding votes open for hours (or days, if necessary) for leadership to twist arms to change the outcome of a floor vote. Republicans had used this tactic and Democrats had then reversed the policy upon gaining majority status. Now, the Democrats signal a shift, to mimic the most corrupt practices of the vanquished Republicans.

On committee chair term limits, Democrats did the right thing by keeping the popular limits after taking control in 2006. Now it is reported that they were just timing their unpopular power grab for later. Those term limits are now gone, repealed, so that career politicians such as Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank can bang their powerful gavel in perpetuity. To their credit, Republicans have kept their term limits for ranking minority committee members.

The majority Democrats also made it much tougher for minority Republicans to force votes on various issues. The previous rule had allowed Republicans to embarrass Democrats by forcing votes on alternatives. Heaven forbid that Congress should consider — or vote on — more than one idea.

Republican Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio sent a letter to Pelosi saying these initial actions have “grave implications for the American people and their freedom, coming at a time when an unprecedented expansion of federal power and spending is being hastily planned by a single party behind closed doors.”

Boehner is right to complain, but I fear that were this “unprecedented expansion of federal power” to arrive in a more bipartisan wrapper, he wouldn't squawk. In fact, I do not recall his earnest concerns over President Bush’s many breaches of constitutional limits and common sense.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic. Just truthful.

Our republic is in trouble. We have to recognize that our economic problems are but a symptom of even bigger political problems

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.