If the assessment is based on Congress’ failure to enact legislation that would bring our troops home or approve federal funding for stem cell research, which apart from corruption were the two most important reasons for the Democratic victory in 2006, then one needs to see why neither of those happened.
Timetables to bring our troops home from Iraq were passed by the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by the President. Legislation to expand medical science through stem cell research was passed by the House and Senate and vetoed by the President. The Democratic majority in the House and Senate did what the American people said they wanted. Only the Republican minority prevented the votes to override the President’s veto. Who is to blame for that?
Unaccustomed as I am to defending Congress, I take umbrage at folks who say that the 110th Congress hasn’t made important improvements over the past Republican-led Congresses. In spite of slim majorities important things have happened in the Senate and in the House. So here are my top ten (I would like to give you thirty but you wouldn’t read them) achievements of the 110th Congress:
1. Required benchmarks and progress reports for the war in Iraq—signed into law
2. Provided the largest increase in support for veterans’ services in history—passed the House and Senate
3. Finally implemented 9-11 Commission recommendations, three years later—passed the House and Senate
4. Restored pay-as-you-go budget discipline for the first time in six years—done
5. Passed the most sweeping lobby reform effort in a generation—passed the House and Senate
6. Provided more protections for whistleblowers who save tax dollars—passed the House and Senate
7. Brought overdue assistance to Gulf Coast communities—signed into law
8. Increased the minimum wage for the first time in a decade—signed into law
9. Provided emergency assistance to ensure children receive quality health care through SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Plan)—signed into law
10. Delivered a wide-ranging Energy Independence initiative to strengthen our national security, create new American jobs—signed into law
Much of this legislation I wanted to be stronger and I wrote letters and made phone calls to that end. There was legislation that I wanted but didn’t get and there was legislation I got that I didn’t want. But make no mistake; it represents a giant step over where we were before 2006.
One of the most important contributions the Democratic majority made to the nation was what it prevented. The record of this administration on judicial and other federal appointments of ill-qualified party loyalists has been horrific. The Senate remained in pro-forma session during the holiday break solely to block President Bush from making recess appointments, appointments not subject to confirmation hearings.
Despite this being an election year, there are critical issues before Congress. One of them is coming up in February when the Senate votes on the Intelligence Authorization Act. In December, under threat of veto by the President, the House voted to require government intelligence agencies to follow the Army Field Manual, which forbids the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques. It should be a no-brainer, but some Republican Senators are planning to obstruct the legislation. The Senate will need sixty votes to do what people of conscience know is right. I don’t know if they will get it. I believe that the nation will be best served in 2008 by increasing the Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.
Having such majorities will not take away our responsibilities to monitor what they do. If Congress receives only 26% rating, what rating do you think we as citizens deserve for our failure to do our homework?