The Democrats in the United States House of Representatives endured an historic drubbing in the recent election. They lost more than 60 seats, and in the process they lost their majority. Now they are trying to decide who should serve as the leaders of the significantly diminished caucus that will be seated when the new Congress begins its work in 2011.
Soon to be former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has surprised many people by saying she will seek the position of Minority Leader. Some surviving House Democrats, however, seem to be saying: “Not so fast!” They want some time to pass before a new Minority Leader is named, perhaps hoping that a credible challenger to Pelosi emerges.
It is not surprising to me that two of the Democrats who appear to be looking for alternatives to Pelosi are from Ohio. They know, first hand, how poorly Pelosi plays in the heartland. It probably was a blunder for House Democrats to select as their Speaker a politician who serves the ultra-liberal enclaves of San Francisco in a safe seat immune from the pressure felt by Democrats in swing states like Ohio — but it would be a disaster if they stuck with Pelosi as leader after the results of this past election. Pelosi’s liberal views were a campaign issue in a number of races, and I think many voters in Ohio and elsewhere believed that their votes for Republican candidates were a repudiation of Pelosi and her position on the issues. For Democrats to ignore that message and return Pelosi to a leadership position would be to thumb their noses at middle America and risk being led down a progressive path to electoral perdition. The situation will be even worse if California experiences the crippling budget crisis that many believe will occur in the next few months and Pelosi is an advocate for a federal bailout of The Golden State. Such an event would confirm the Republicans’ argument that Democrats are a fiscally irresponsible bunch who never met a bailout they didn’t like.
Pelosi, secure in her safe San Francisco seat, probably does not care what middle America thinks. She believes that she knows what is best for the country and will pursue it regardless of what the election results may be. The battered survivors of the House Democratic bloodbath on November 2, 2010, however, do not have that luxury.
One issue to be addressed in the upcoming “lame duck” Congress is whether the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended. Republicans say that the current tax rates should be extended because it makes no sense to raise taxes during a recession. The position of many, but not all, Democrats is that some of the tax cuts should be extended, but the tax cuts on Americans who earn the most income should expire — thereby increasing their taxes.
So much of the political discussion in Washington, D.C. is vacuous jousting about language! In this case, is the extension of tax rates that are about to expire a “tax cut,” or is allowing those rates to expire a “tax increase”? (I think most Americans would conclude, reasonably, that if tax rates should go from 35% on December 31, 2010 to 39% on January 1, 2011, a “tax increase” has occurred.) Even more exasperating are the arguments by President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others, that if an across-the-board extension occurs, the federal government would have to “borrow” money to “pay” for “tax cuts” for those Americans who earn the most.
It is worth deconstructing such statements, because they reveal a lot about the attitude of many leading Democrats. In effect, they believe that the federal government is entitled to the money earned by every taxpayer. If the government decides to let us keep some of it we should be grateful, because the government has to “pay” for that generosity. In my view, this infuriating sense of entitlement is one reason that voters voted against so many Democratic candidates earlier this month. If the government believes that it has a right to every penny we earn, it will never learn to live within its means — and that is what voters want. If our government cannot get by on tax receipts that already exceed $2 trillion, the problem is spending, not taxes.
The Democrats in the House of Representatives apparently are carefully considering using various procedural machinations that would allow them to avoid casting a direct vote on the Senate version of the “health care reform” legislation. Instead, the approach under exploration would allow the Senate bill to be “deemed passed” if the House adopts a rule on the consideration of the reconciliation bill or passes some other procedural proposal. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team reportedly are looking at other, similarly spineless options, like approving the bill through a voice vote rather than a recorded roll call vote.
With this kind of gutlessness, is it any wonder that people are fed up with Congress and despair at its ability to make tough decisions on issues like deficit reduction? Our elected representatives are happy to get personal attention when it comes to campaign contributions, or congressional junkets, or being treated like a big deal at the Labor Day parade or the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. But when it comes to actually casting a vote on one of the most important pieces of legislation Congress has considered in years — legislation that has been the focus of more than a year of debate, speeches, and foul political maneuvering — Members of the House shrink into the woodwork and want to be let off easy.
I strongly disagree with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown on the merits of the Senate bill, but I appreciate his willingness to publicly state his position and be held accountable for it. My advice to the Representatives in the House is this: if you are unwilling to publicly vote for the Senate bill, then you should not attempt to obtain the bill’s passage through some subterfuge that you believe will give you “plausible deniability” come Election Day. You may, deep down, hold your constituents in contempt and believe that they can be misled about anything by some slick TV ads, but in this case you are wrong. People are paying attention, they will remember, and they will vote.
CBS News has posted an interesting report on how much American taxpayers spent to send certain members of Congress, their family members, and assorted staffers to the recent “Copenhagen Climate Summit” that produced lots of hot air but no meaningful agreement. According to the congressional spending reports cited in the CBS piece, at last 106 people from the House and Senate attended. Each of the 21 Representatives who attended spent $2,200 a day in food and lodging; taxpayers also footed the bill for meeting rooms and $1,000 a night hospitality suites. When a CBS producer tried to ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the bill, she refused to talk about it. In addition to the massive delegation from Congress, the Obama Administration itself sent 60 more people to Copenhagen, adding to the overall taxpayer cost.
Members of Congress may talk in heartfelt terms about the recession, but their conduct shows they either don’t really understand or just don’t care. I’m not clear why any members of Congress needed to attend the “Summit,” much less dozens of them, plus spouses, kids, and hangers-on. Why should taxpayers pay for Speaker Pelosi’s husband to take a quick jaunt to Denmark to rub elbows with the likes of Hugo Chavez and other “climate change leaders”? At a time when so many Americans have lost their jobs and their homes and are eating Ramen noodles for dinner, how can Congressmen justify spending $2,200 a day for food and lodging — more than many Americans make in a month — and then support a Speaker who refuses to even answer questions about such wasteful spending?