Democratic Congress – New Politics

On Thursday, the Democrats hit the ground running in Washington, assuming power for the first time in 12 years and kicking off the 110th US Congress with an ambitious 100-hour agenda packed with popular reforms.

These include expanding stem cell research, raising the minimum wage, rolling back subsidies for oil companies, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and introducing legislation to put an end the ‘culture of corruption’ on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a historic moment for the Congress and a historic moment for the women of America,” declared Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who became the first woman House Speaker in US history. She is now third in line for the US Presidency behind the Vice President.

Mr Bush and Democrat leaders have vowed to work cooperatively in a spirit of bipartisanship.

This follows more than a decade of scorched-earth partisan politics on Capitol Hill which began with the openly hostile ‘Republican Revolution’ kicked off by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Penn.) and his declaration that President Bill Clinton was ‘irrelevant’. Mr Gingrich also made no secret of the fact that he was out to ‘roll’ President Clinton and was a driving force behind his impeachment.

President Bush wrote in his opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the Democrats should not to resort to “politics as usual” and propose “bills that are simply political statements”.

The Democrats have already been accused of partisan politics by planning to progress their first 100-hour agenda without committee review and without allowing Republicans to propose amendments.

Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), Chair of the Republican Conference expressed his “profound disappointment” that the Democrats have “rolled out an ambitious schedule for just next week alone … with no committee hearings, no opportunities for half of the Congress to prepare amendments and offer their version”.

Yet Ms Pelosi and House Majority Leader-elect Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have defended the fast-tracking of key Democrat campaign promises to the American voters. “We view the first 100 hours essentially as a mandate from the American people,” said Mr Hoyer. “We said to the American people, ‘If you elect us, if you put us in charge, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to do it in the first 100 hours.’ ”

Meanwhile, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, has said that he believes there may still be provisions made for Republican members of committees to have some input into the reforms.

The Democrats’ first 100 hour agenda includes:

  • Raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour
  • Reducing interest rates on student loans from 6.8% to 3.4%
  • Increasing federal funding for stem cell research
  • Lowering Medicare prescription drug prices by allowing the US government to use its purchasing power to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies
  • Rolling back tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies to fund the promotion and development of renewable energy sources
  • Implementing 9/11 recommendations, including the appointment of an intelligence oversight panel and the screening of incoming cargo
  • Banning gifts from lobbyists and identifying members of Congress who propose earmarks (pork-barreling) for spending legislation

The high level of public support for the Democrats’ reforms will make it difficult for Republicans to oppose them, regardless of the amount of input they have before the reforms are put to vote in Congress.

As ambitious as the Democrats’ 100-hour agenda may first appear, it may soon seem relatively modest and uncontroversial in light of the clashes anticipated over the Iraq war, health care and social security.

For now, it seems that Ms Pelosi and the Democrats are focused on an agenda that favors the old adage that politics is the art of the possible.

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