Sunday, November 19, 2006
In January, we will be looking at a new Congress, and with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, we will be looking at a new national policy agenda. I know that I am looking forward to moving the progressive agenda forward in the next Congress. But Democrats can't just kick back and take it easy for the next few weeks.
It would be a huge mistake to overlook the potential for damage in the lame duck session. A lame duck session doesn't sound like anything to worry about, but this lame duck may be a lot more dangerous than people think. We can expect Republicans to try to jam through as much of their agenda as they can while they have the chance.
Democrats have to stick together and show Republicans - and the country - that we have what it takes to stop them. It's no secret that Democrats haven't always been able to deliver enough votes to fight off the GOP agenda, but now is the time to pull together and stop that agenda from moving forward. If we don't, we cannot expect people to have faith in our ability to lead in the next Congress.
There are a lot of bad bills that the Republicans may try to ram through, but here's the worst of the worst - a bill to legalize the President's warrantless wiretapping program. The White House is desperate to enact this bill, which allows the government to spy on American citizens, on American soil, without a warrant.
Other measures on the White House wish list that are likely to surface during the lame duck session include a number of unfunded tax cuts and questionable trade measures. Democrats have nothing to gain by allowing these measures to pass in the next few weeks, and everything to lose. Everything should wait until the new Congress, when Democrats will have a lot more say about how bills are put together and what gets passed.
Republicans would love to extend a bunch of tax breaks during the lame duck - without paying for them, of course. Unless the Republican Leadership is willing to pay for them, instead of letting those tax breaks pass, and letting the Republicans keep on busting the federal budget, we should force these matters to wait until the next Congress, when we will have more power to shape the debate. In the 110th Congress, we can make sure that tax cuts are justified before enacting them, and we can ensure that they are paid for. Anything is better than letting these policies pass in the lame duck.
Trade policy may not be fixable while the current Administration remains in power. But that doesn't mean that Democrats should simply throw up their hands and allow another flawed trade agreement to be passed during the lame duck session. According to Global Trade Watch, over 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost since the early 1990s, with NAFTA directly responsible for the loss of one million of those jobs. Global Trade Watch notes that the job export crisis is now expanding from manufacturing to high-tech and service sector jobs. Trade measures based on the failed NAFTA model should be scrapped in favor of agreements that actually benefit American workers and businesses, and we have a much better chance to do that in the next Congress.
There will be a lot of pressure on the current Democratic congressional leadership to give in to the Republican agenda. And Democratic enablers are well placed to help Republicans advance their agenda, while many other Democrats will just want to go home for the holidays. But too much is at stake for us to let that happen. If we want to show people that we have what it takes to govern, we need to start proving ourselves right now, from day one. Proving ourselves means standing up for Democratic values, and stopping the worn-out Republican agenda that Americans just rejected at the polls.
After the gains we made on November 7, it would be easy to just relax and bask in the victory - but it would also be a big mistake. The lame duck is the Republicans' last chance to pass bills on the White House's wish list, and we shouldn't let them get away with it. It is the Democrats' turn to lead Congress, and we can start strong by rejecting the Republicans' last ditch efforts in the lame duck session.