Congress Reaches the Wrong Milestone

Robert Bluey

10/28/2007 3:58:16 PM - Robert Bluey

For the first time in history, the House of Representatives hit the 1,000-vote mark. It’s a thoroughly meaningless milestone, yet liberals proclaimed it a monumental accomplishment.

“Our job is to take America in a new direction, and we are working hard to do that,” a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the Associated Press.

A closer look at the numbers tells a different story, however. The House could literally vote all day on measures such as motions to recommit and motions to adjourn. But lawmakers are busying themselves with other “priorities” as well -- such as naming post offices.

Of the 106 bills signed by President Bush into law this year, nearly half (46) name post offices, courthouses or roads. Another 44 bills were equally non-controversial measures, such as reconstruction of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis. Of the remainder, 14 bills merely extended existing laws. So much for “a new direction.”

Not everyone is pleased with the lack of achievement. As last week’s Democratic debacle over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program revealed, even moderate Republicans who have supported “new direction” initiatives from the Democrats are losing their patience. “I used to think they cared about the policy. Now I think they care more about the politics,” moderate Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) told the Washington Post. His colleague, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.), actually switched his vote to oppose SCHIP after growing disheartened by the tactics employed by Democrats.

It’s unclear how Democrats will proceed on SCHIP, but with a Nov. 16 deadline looming, they might opt for a one-year extension rather than trying to work with Republicans on an alternative that would be palatable to both sides. President Bush said Friday that congressional Democrats haven’t even met with representatives of the administration to talk about finding a solution to the gridlock, an ominous sign that reflects LaHood’s sentiments.

A similar confrontation could take place this week when the Senate is expected to vote on the Labor/HHS/Education and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs spending bills. By combining the two bills, Democrats hope to pick off Republicans who are weary of voting against legislation that funds veterans programs, despite the high price tag and veto threats from Bush.

Their strategy is to ram through what Republican aides are calling a “mini-bus” -- a precursor to a much larger omnibus spending bill that could come down the pike later this year encompassing the remaining appropriations bills. By taking that approach, Democrats could try to pick off some Republicans in hopes of avoiding a presidential veto.

But in the meantime, the fiscal clock is ticking. The 2008 fiscal year is nearly a month old and Congress has not yet sent a single spending bill to the White House -- the latest date in 20 years. The failure of Democrats in the House and Senate to work out their differences has given Bush an opening to lecture Congress as a father might scold a misbehaving child.

“This is not what congressional leaders promised when they took control of Congress earlier this year,” Bush said. “Only a few weeks left on the legislative calendar -- Congress needs to keep their promise, to stop wasting time, and get essential work done on behalf of the American people.”

In the next few weeks, there’s much left to do: the Internet tax moratorium expires on Thursday, Michael Mukasey’s nomination to be attorney general is still pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and lawmakers face a bruising political battle over Bush’s latest emergency war funding supplemental bill.

Given the state of affairs in Washington, don’t expect any to come easy or without a fight.