Democrats in the Spotlight

The New York Times captured the headline–“Jubilant Democrats Assume Control on Capitol Hill.” Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to become Speaker of the House, overshadowed her co-leader, Senator Harry Reid, the new majority leader of the Senate, though both of their speeches were remarkably similar.

Now that the Democrats, after twelve long years, control the Congress, what are they going to do with it? Quite clearly, in their first 100 hours in the House of Representatives, they want to increase the long-frozen minimum wage, give the federal government authority to negotiate price cuts with the drug companies for the medicines that Uncle Sam is the purchasing agent, reduce interest rates on student loans, roll back subsidies for oil and gas companies and void restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

All these are called reforms. But most are catch-ups or rollbacks of mostly corporate-lobbied policies that pushed our country back. Not exactly breaking new ground. But then, the Democrats chose them for their relative ease of passage. If, however, they are blocked by the Republicans, Democrats want to make them issues that could cost the GOP votes in the coming 2008 election.

It is the 2008 election that looms over this new Congress. For the Democrats in office, with few exceptions, extreme caution is the mode. This means that all the outrages Democrats attributed to the Bush regime since 2001–many of which could have been stopped by the large Democratic minority then in the Congress­ are not on the agenda today.

Early and troubling signals from Capitol Hill indicate that the Democrats are not going to move to remove the brazen Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, are not going to go after the huge waste and redundancy in military weapons contracts rendered obsolete with the demise of the Soviet Union, are not going to end massive corporate welfare, as we know it, and are not going to propose a serious crackdown on widespread corporate crime, fraud and abuse.

Granted, the Democrats are making big noises about ethics reform, moving to ban a variety of corporate freebies from corporate jet travel to gifts and dinners. But the 800 pound gorilla is big business money in political campaigns. The gorilla seems not to worry. Fund-raising dinners are already starting up and the corporate greasers are readjusting their attentions to the receptive majority Democrats.

Of all the reasons why the Democrats won in 2006, most of them agree that the foremost one was the public’s expanding revulsion against Bush over the Iraq war-quagmire. To move to end that disaster for the United States, for Iraq and for our status in the world, the Democrats possess a number of assets.

Public opinion is nearing 70 percent against Bush and the war. Bush’s approval rating is in the low 30s. Only 17 percent of the public supports his increasing the number of soldiers in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is worsening by the month, including U.S. casualties and expenditures. Finally, dozens of ex-generals, admirals, top national security advisors, diplomats and a growing number of former high Bush Administration officials are pressing for various withdrawal strategies.

What more does an opposition Party in control of the legislative branch need? Battlefield veteran, Cong. John Murtha has been out in front for over a year demanding an ‘out of Iraq’ policy. Later this month, about 1000 active duty soldiers will petition their Congress to get out of this war. Demonstrations are increasing around the country.

Still, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid, themselves critical of Bush’s criminal war, exude ambiguities and eschew a decisive alternative pathway to peace. It is as if they are on the sidelines watching Bush-Cheney self-destruct politically for the Republicans in 2008.

If you are looking to test these early signs in the coming months, consider what kind of investigations the Senate and House Committees launch. Consider whether the few Democrats demanding an impeachment process for the accountability of Messrs. Bush and Cheney are silenced by their leaders.

About two years ago, a poll showed 52 percent of Americans would favor impeachment if they learned the President was lying about the reasons for invading Iraq. That number is probably larger today, given all the disclosures that confirm the multiple lies, fabrications and cover-ups leading to and during the Iraq military occupation.

Another litmus paper test is how closely these dominant Democrats work with progressive national citizen groups in Washington, D.C. When the Republicans took over in 1995, groups like the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute almost took up residence in the Senate and the House, feeding legislation, studies and strategies to the welcoming Republicans.


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!