Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Democrats Deserve To Retain Both Houses Of Congress

There's a lot of talk these days about the Republicans recapturing the House of Representatives this fall, and even having an outside chance of getting the Senate too. For anyone with a memory, this would be a terrible thing, recalling the nastiness of the Clinton years, when the GOP took Congress in the 1994 midterm election, and the bad policies of the first six years of the George W. Bush administration, when the Republicans controlled Congress (minus a brief period in 2002 when Democrats controlled the Senate).

Let's not have them measure the drapes yet. As Susan Estrich points out, the use of generic polls in making broad predictions isn't a terribly effective method of political prognosticating.

Additionally, the midterm election is far from a done deal this early in the season, for a number of reasons, as one of our favorite sites,, articulates.

But rather than make predictions, let's look at why giving Republicans control over even one
house of Congress is a bad idea:

Contrary to right-wing dogma and the relentless drone of Republican propaganda, this Democratic Congress has been very effective. Among their accomplishments since Barack Obama became president are health care reform, financial regulation reform, and an economic stimulus that is widely credited with saving the nation from an even worse economic downturn.

Health care reform was a goal of many presidents since at least Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago. Did the legislation go far
enough? Probably not. Inclusion of a public option or the establishment of a Medicare-for-all plan would have done more to lower costs, but the bill that was passed will go a long way to
correcting a situation that has been out of control for too long and which is simply unsustainable. Getting the bill passed above Republican obstruction - remember that not a single Republican in the House voted for the bill - and industry lobbying - millions were spent to water down the legislation - was no small feat. However much more could have been done in reforming health care, the Democrats in Congress made an historic effort and deserve praise for what they accomplished.

Similarly, financial reform represents another huge milestone, and one that has been badly needed for decades. Deregulation of many of the New Deal-era rules began in earnest during the Reagan years. During that time, the concentration of wealth in the nation shifted to the top, with the wealthiest ten percent of the population getting about a 35% share of all income in 1982 to more than 50% in 2007. At the same time, working people have had to spend down their savings and go into debt to get by. Republicans have pushed deregulation under the guise of "freedom," and now claim that efforts to re-regulate amount to "socialism" - a claim that was made by conservatives during the New Deal period and again during the Great Society era to try to derail efforts to legislate business. Never mind that true socialism isn't reflected in these efforts - if the Republicans can scare people into thinking that "the American way of life" is at stake, they will use any phrase, slogan, or pejorative they can think of.

It's worth pausing a second to consider the complete implausibility of what the Republicans are
really advocating. They've been saying since the Reagan years that business prospers when it isn't hindered by rules, and that this benefits society. Inherent in that idea is that business leaders will act in the best interests of society. As 30 years of evidence shows us, that's either
a naive notion or simply disingenuous. It's not the role of business to act in the public interest, and while we can always hope its leaders will do so, there is no law requiring them to. Rather, it's the role of government to act in the public interest, which sometimes means creating rules we all have to follow to create a fair society. Most people are confident enough to leave their house every day and travel on the roads and highways, with the reasonable assumption that they can get where they are going safely because rules are in place to guide people to drive responsibly. Would they take the chance to venture out if there were no speed limits, stop lights or rights-of-way? Why should the business world be any different? Shouldn't workers and investors be able to have the confidence that there are rules in place that make the most irresponsible excesses of business illegal or, at least, discouraged? Establishment of these long overdue rules is yet another reason the Democrats in Congress should be applauded.

Perhaps the most controversial accomplishment of the last year
and a half is the passage of the economic stimulus bill. Conservatives have worked the nation into a tizzy with hype about the growing deficit. Yes, it is true that the U.S. has a large deficit, and it's also true that Republicans have short memories. It was under Ronald Reagan that the deficit grew wildly and the U.S. went from being the largest creditor nation to largest debtor. It was the George W. Bush administration that made the situation far worse with the tax cuts for the wealthy that were passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.
It was also the Bush administration that took the surplus of the Clinton years and created a massive debt.

But now, Republicans want to talk about the deficit and scare people into thinking that it can only get better if they were in charge - betting against the memory of the people. (When presented with the idea of letting the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 - as they are scheduled to - Republicans respond by saying that the deficit doesn't matter as much as tax cuts for the wealthy. What they really mean is that they want to complain about the deficit only when it is convenient for them.)

Meanwhile, economic experts have been on record since before the stimulus, saying it needed to be larger. Conservatives succeeded in watering it down by hyperventilating about the deficit, yet none of them voted for it in the long run! (In the Senate, two Republican senators from Maine voted for the measure, along with Sen. Specter who was soon to join the Democrats; in the House, not a single Republican voted for it.) So the Democrats passed legislation that is credited with saving the economy from further ruin against virtually unified opposition.

If that's not enough for you, consider what the Republicans would do if back in control. They've already said they'd hold hearings on everything in the Obama administration they don't like, just like they did in the Clinton years, eventually hounding the president to the brink of impeachment. That's not only a waste of taxpayer money - which they claim to hold so sacred - but a waste of precious time that's needed to fix problems like climate change.

Given the opportunity, they'd also enact policies - tax cuts, deregulation, and the usual suspects - that are demonstrable failures. We already have thirty years of evidence in front of us that show that these policies don't work. It really could not be more clear.

No one can deny that the U.S. is in difficult times. It seems that many of those difficulties - especially those relating to the economy - stem from Republican policies. But in grand political tradition, the Republicans instead vilify the people who have actually made strides of progress - Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama - and blame the nation's problems on the hardest working among us. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has spent the first eight months of his term holding out teachers, policemen and fire fighters - and their unions - as the gravest threat to our security and well being -- and Christie's become an aspiration to Republicans across the country! Indeed, Republicans in Congress held up much-needed funds for teachers and police just last month; Republican Rep. John Boehner went so far as to call the money "a bailout." If the Democrats wanted to wage a negative campaign, they could do worse than the slogan "Republicans Hurt Working People."

Democrats have been more effective controlling Congress in the last year and a half than almost any other time in decades. But there is still a lot more work to be done - the economy is still in trouble and our deadline on climate change is breathing down our necks, neither of which are problems the Republicans are equipped to handle. The Democrats deserve the chance to do it, without the harmful, obstructive and divisive policies and politics of the Republicans.