Monday, November 06, 2006


If Nancy Pelosi is the next House Speaker, her first order of business should be to reach across the aisle and lower tensions

I’m deliberately writing this column and posting it to my editors before I know the results of the 2006 mid term election. I don’t want to be unduly influenced- either by elation or depression- by the results. The campaign is over. Now the hard part begins. Whoever is sworn into office come January of 2007 will have to make hard decisions. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with the tough issues that face us:

CAMPAIGN REFORM: If the Democrats manage to take either house of Congress, their first order of business should be procedural, not substantive. They should take a firm stand on campaign finance reform and give the public what the public wants- clean elections, fought by candidates over real issues that will matter the day after the votes are counted, not anonymous surrogates doing voice over ads with moronic attacks accusing opponents of raising taxes, coddling terrorists, and allowing a million immigrants to move in next door. If the battle for campaign finance reform does only two things: (1) redefine all lobbyist contributions as illegal bribes that will land the recipient and the donor in the federal clink; and (2) provide for public financing of all federal elections- then the rest of the issues will be actually doable and comparatively easy.

CHANGE THE TONE IN WASHINGTON: Whoever runs Congress would do us all a service by turning off the incredibly mean and personal sniping by both parties. What the country needs and voters want is a true bi-partisan working coalition of left and right, North and South, East and West, Red States and Blue States. Here’s some ideas that might work:

* Change the rules to allow every Senator and every Representative in Congress to have a recorded vote on at least one bill every year. Each member would be allowed to bring one bill to the floor that could not be amended and would be subject to a recorded vote. Whatever the issue- global warming, high gas prices, providing equipment and better pay and benefits for the troops- there will be no earmarks, no hidden pork, no poison pill amendments that will cause good bills to be voted down by the very people who sponsored them- like last term’s Republican joke of putting a repeal of the estate tax for billionaires on a bill to raise the minimum wage.

* Allow the minority party on committees to exercise subpoena power so that whatever party is out of power will still have the wherewithal to investigate waste and fraud by the current administration- whether it be Republican or Democrat. Amazingly enough, during the entire 2006 political cycle, not one candidate has managed to rouse the public to the fact that American taxpayers have been defrauded of billions of dollars by companies operating in Iraq with no oversight. Billions have literally disappeared, along with thousands of weapons and other gear provided by American taxpayers to help equip the Iraqi police- weapons which instead have gone to arm the insurgents because of incompetent oversight. Giving subpoena power to the party out of power will help curtail these outrageous abuses.

* End the practice of party caucuses deciding public business in secret. If it’s the public’s business being conducted, then we have a right to see how it’s being done. If Exxon is going to get a $30 billion tax break, if Merck and Pfizer are going to make billions from a prescription drug bill by keeping seniors from buying cheaper generic drugs abroad, then let’s make the proponents of those travesties have to make their speeches on the public record. No more drafting bills in secret and dumping thousand page pieces of legislation on members’ desks an hour before a vote to avoid a government shut down. Party leaders of whichever party is in power should apply the same “government in the sunshine” laws to Congress that currently apply to most local governments around the country.

ATTACK THE REAL PROBLEMS- NOW: Whether the issue is war, a sane fiscal policy or dealing with with Social Security or Medicare, we need real solutions, not sound bites for next year’s ads. Start with:

* OUR RUINOUS NATIONAL DEBT: As tired as I am of hearing Republicans attack my party as being “tax and spend” Democrats, I’m even more tired of the total lack of a riposte from spineless and clueless Democrats, who failed to point out that the Republicans’ “borrow and spend” antics have driven the national debt up from $5 trillion to over $8.5 trillion in just five years under President Bush. We are all stuck with the bill when Congress spends money on expensive new weapons or a drug benefit that will make more billions for drug companies without having the revenue to pay for it. We’re the ones paying $350 billion annual interest on that $8.5 trillion. It’s time to pay the piper, and better now that later, before the interest payments alone swallow all of our tax revenues. We’re going to have to make hard choices, and zero based budgeting requiring every agency, every department, to justify every dollar spent, is one way to start. Enacting real campaign finance reform and eliminating all money from lobbyists to candidates is the only way truly responsible budgeting will ever be possible.

* GLOBAL WARMING: Britain has just reported that if we don’t address global warming soon, later might be too late. Scientists have predicted that there is a “tipping point” not too far away after which we are all in deep trouble. Once the ice caps reach a certain stage of melt down and glaciers have all but disappeared, once the seas have warmed and started to rise, we don’t get a “do over” to get them back. When the process gets that far along, it won’t be reversed. Letting energy companies get away with paying scientists to muddy the issue and delay the inevitable is irresponsible governing, and a bi-partisan consensus needs to be reached before it’s too late for the planet and its inhabitants.

* SOCIAL SECURITY & MEDICARE: President Bush famously said, just after his 2004 election victory, that he had political capital to spend and he was going to spend it. So while Hurricane Katrina was devastating New Orleans, President Bush was on tour in Arizona and California touting his Social Security privatization plan that would have wrecked the fiscal integrity of the system. Soon after, his political capital was gone. But the problems remain, and no one appears to be interested in dealing with them because of the political fallout. Medicare will go belly up in about 10 or 15 years. Medicaid is already a disaster. And so called “tort reform” capping medical malpractice awards has had zero impact on doctors’ insurance premiums. Someone in power needs to call a “time out” and suggest that for once, we don’t need a committee or a blue ribbon commission. All we need is the willingness to schedule real hearings before committees on the issue with eminent experts to testify and tell us potential solutions. Then schedule real votes- not the “gotcha” kind that are designed to be included in next election’s campaign commercials. Instead of allowing amendments, let each representative or senator put out his or her proposal as a bill that will get an up or down vote (the once a year recorded vote mentioned earlier).

* OUR MILITARY AND FOREIGN POLICY: The next Congress is going to have to deal with the aftermath of the disastrous decisions of the Bush Administration which have decimated the military. Say what you will about John Kerry, but his tactless remark had one element of truth- the Army has had to drop its recruiting educational standards lower than they’ve been in 30 years just to try to reduce their shortfalls. What Kerry should have said was that with Bush, you can fail at your education but still be allowed to go to Iraq to serve with the smart kids who are already there. As for foreign policy, traditionally the purview of the President, Congress is going to have to hold hearings, investigate pre-war manipulation of intelligence, the outright fraud and theft of money and materials, and the poor preparation of the military- all legacies of the Iraq War. When Donald Rumsfeld said that you go to war with the Army and the equipment that you have, not the Army that you want to have, that should have been an alarm bell to both Congress and the American public. After all, it’s Congress’ Constitutional duty to raise the army and provision it, not the President’s job. His job is to be Commander in Chief once the army is ready to go and Congress has declared War. Somehow, Congress got left off the hook while the members went on junkets with defense contractors and took millions from them in campaign contributions. So the taxpayers ended up paying billions for useless relics of the Cold War like nuclear attack submarines and super cool next generation jet fighters- all of which are useless in dealing with an enemy using boxcutters, roadside bombs, and hiding in caves in remote mountains or among the general population in urban areas.


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