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Archive for the ‘Democratic Leadership’ Category

George Will’s latest column, A Lack of Courage in Their Convictions, argues that Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq is disingenuous and politically opportunist. “Indiscriminate criticism of President George W. Bush is an infectious disease that may prove crippling to congressional Democrats.” The Democrats refuse to cut off funding for the Iraq war; instead, they condemn the surge rhetorically in a non-binding resolution. “They lack the will to exercise their clearly constitutional power to defund the war. And they lack the power to achieve that end by usurping the commander in chief’s powers to conduct a war.”

I agree with George. Democrats should defund the war and bring home the troops. It’s what the Iraqis want and it’s what we want. But then, Will’s logic takes a turn for the absurd. While urging the Democrats to act on their convictions, Will writes “They can spend this year fecklessly and cynically enacting restrictions that do not restrict. Or they can legislate decisive failure of the Iraq operation — withdrawal — thereby acquiring conspicuous complicity in a defeat that might be inevitable anyway.”

If Democratic support for withdrawal demonstrates “conspicuous complicity in a defeat” George Bush’s policy has made such defeat “inevitable.” But I disagree with the premise. A resolute push for withdrawal (enforced by restricting funding) is the only strategy for saving American lives and resources; to refute American Iraqi policy is to save America from a deeper commitment.

To compare criticism to an “infectious disease” is not just demonstrative of Will’s contempt for democracy but it’s also an indication of his stark partisanship: the Democrats should cut off funding to a policy which will inevitably fail, but if they do, they will take part in a “conspicuous complicity” for failure. Will is urging the Democrats to legislate their convictions; should they do so, however, George Will will criticize them for taking his advise.

— Igor Volsky

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First this morning (at around 9:30am) and then again this afternoon (at around 2:00pm) MSNBC reported on the Republican-manufactured controversy surrounding the negotiations between House sergeant-at-arms and the Pentagon to secure a large military plane to transport Nancy Pelosi from her offices in Washington D.C. to her district in San Francisco. Congressional Republicans have maliciously and erroneously suggested that Pelosi made the request, characterizing their own invention as ”an extravagance of power that the taxpayers won’t swallow.”

While I’m not surprised that the cable news networks have exploited the non-story to attract viewers, I’m shocked by the sheer sexism of Republican Congressmen and prominent network officials. The media has consistently portrayed Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, two powerful Democratic leaders, as power-hungry ‘bitches’. This story is ‘credible’ because it exploits female stereotypes; abuse of power by men (like the extravagant arrogance and power corruption of Dennis Hastert and the old Republican majority) is rarely considered news worthy (Tom Delay’s hammer-like tactics were reported, in diluted form, only after he was forced to resign).

All this begs the question: are Americans ready for a powerful female president? The Pelosi story suggests that we’re not; powerful women are still seen, by many in the ‘old boy establishment,’ as threatening masculine power and masculinity.

— Igor Volsky

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A quick note on this Iraq resolution business. First, I think that the entire effort is pointless. The Democrats are demanding debate on a non-binding resolution noting their displeasure with the President’s unpopular escalation strategy. All the while, they are denying the Republicans the right to inroduce their own amendments, the very same right the Democrats themselves demanded while in the minority.

The Democrats should grow a backbone, cut off funding for the escalation, and begin the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Democrats should also live up to their campaign promise (to lead the most ethical, democratic congress in history, blah, blah, blah) and allow for open debate on Iraq.

In the lead up to war, most of these lawmakers ignored dissent to support the 2002 resolution for war. Our country has been stifled by ‘group think.’ The Democrats should bring our troops home and restore democracy to Congress; they owe us that much.

— Igor Volsky

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The Democrats are a bit less corrupt than the Republicans. Still, they represent the businesses that finance their campaigns. Until Americans demand the public financing of elections, the interests of business will always supersede the concerns and needs of the nation. America should not be in the business of subsidizing big business.

From the LA Times:

Last week, however, when Pelosi (D-San Francisco) won House approval of the much-touted bill socking it to the oil companies, it turned out to be considerably less drastic than many in the industry originally feared. Out of an estimated $32 billion in subsidies and tax breaks that the oil companies are scheduled to receive over the next five years, the final House bill cut $5.5 billion.

It’s not just oil: From one end of the House Democrats’ “first 100 hours” agenda to the other, businesspeople and their lobbyists have found success amid the fear in dealing with the new Congress.

Surprising as it might seem in view of the Democrats’ public rhetoric, business groups are getting their telephone calls returned. And they’re getting plenty of face time with the new House and Senate leaders.

Thanks to this access, the oil industry fended off many features it considered most objectionable in the proposed energy bill, and the big pharmaceutical companies had success keeping some provisions out of the new House Medicare drug bill.

And, while the House was passing its minimum-wage bill, small-business lobbyists were working the Senate to win tax breaks for their clients in the Senate’s version of the bill.

“There was a lot more anxiety initially because of not knowing what was going to transpire,” said Stuart Roy, a member of the prominent Washington lobby shop DCI Group and once an aide to Tom DeLay when DeLay (R-Texas) was House majority leader. Now, Roy said, “the anxiety level is down.”

— Igor Volsky

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I refuse to tolerate government hypocrisy. Nancy Pelosi promised to run the most ethical and open government in history. The Democrats won their majority on the promise that they will rid Congress of corruption and special interest influence. Pelosi should walk her talk

On Wednesday, the House voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour.
    The bill also extends for the first time the federal minimum wage to the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands. However, it exempts American Samoa, another Pacific island territory that would become the only U.S. territory not subject to federal minimum-wage laws.
    One of the biggest opponents of the federal minimum wage in Samoa is StarKist Tuna, which owns one of the two packing plants that together employ more than 5,000 Samoans, or nearly 75 percent of the island’s work force. StarKist’s parent company, Del Monte Corp., has headquarters in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi. The other plant belongs to California-based Chicken of the Sea.
    “There’s something fishy going on here,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican.
    During the House debate yesterday on stem-cell research, Mr. McHenry raised a parliamentary inquiry as to whether an amendment could be offered that would exempt American Samoa from stem-cell research, “just as it was for the minimum-wage bill.”
    A clearly perturbed Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who was presiding, cut off Mr. McHenry and shouted, “No, it would not be.”
    “So, the chair is saying I may not offer an amendment exempting American Samoa?” Mr. McHenry pressed.
    “The gentleman is making a speech and will sustain,” Mr. Frank shouted as he slammed his large wooden gavel against the rostrum.
    Some Republicans who voted in favor of the minimum-wage bill were particularly irritated to learn yesterday — after their vote — that the legislation did not include American Samoa.
    “I was troubled to learn of this exemption,” said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican. “My intention was to raise the minimum wage for everyone. We shouldn’t permit any special favors or exemptions that are not widely discussed in Congress. This is the problem with rushing legislation through without full debate.”
    A spokeswoman for Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday that the speaker has not been lobbied in any way by StarKist or Del Monte.

Are 5,000 Samoans less worthy of humane treatment and a moral wage? Pelosi must account for this exemption and the perception that she extended special treatment to her constituents. Pelosi was the first woman to be elected speaker of the House; she must refrain from abusing the power that comes with privilege.

— Igor Volsky

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Yesterday, the Congress approved ethics reforms which “prohibit House members or employees from knowingly accepting gifts or travel from a registered lobbyist, foreign agent or lobbyist’s client. Lawmakers could no longer fly on corporate jets. In addition, congressional travel financed by outside groups would have to be approved in advance by the House ethics committee and immediately disclosed to the public.”

As the Ethics Committee (officially named the Committee On Standards and Official Conduct) prepares to clarify, interpret, and define the term ‘lobbyist’ and the types of organizations prohibited from influencing lawmakers with free gifts or travel, the Hill is reporting that “state and local government agencies and some foundations, such as AIPAC and the Aspen Institute, want to be exempted from the new rules.” According to the Jewish daily, the Forward:

Jewish groups, though supportive of most measures, are concerned about two aspects of the reform: the ban on privately funded congressional travel, and the limitations on earmarks. Both measures might — depending on the final language adopted — restrict actions of Jewish and pro-Israel groups on Capitol Hill.

All-expense-paid tours to Israel are among the most common overseas trips made by members of Congress and their aides. Watchdog groups, using data from congressional filings, have reported that Israel is the leading destination for privately sponsored congressional trips.

[…]

Jewish groups are now lobbying Congress to make sure that educational trips, such as those to Israel, be allowed to continue even under the new restrictions being considered. “Trips to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation have long been considered among the most substantive, educational and valuable trips available for members of Congress,” Aipac spokesman Josh Block said. “While in Israel, members have the opportunity to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, academics, journalists, elected officials, hearing from speakers representing diverse views across the political spectrum, and get a personal, firsthand view of issues of great importance to American policy in the Middle East.”

If past behavior is an indicator of future results, AIPAC will be exempt from the new ethics rules. The Israeli lobby has a stronghold on American foreign policy; Democrats, and Republicans receive large campaign donations from so-called pro Israeli groups, Israel’s PR firms shape U.S. media coverage and our economic dependence on the middle east ensures a pro-Zionist bias in legislation and public debate. Speaker Pelosi has been praised for her “straight-A record on Israel” and the United States annually grants Israel billions of dollars in aid.

While AIPAC’s free trips to Israel may be educational in the historical sense, they give Israel a greater advantage and opportunity to promote her agenda. Such trips minimize the plight of the Palestinians and provide Israel with an opportunity to indoctrinate American lawmakers. The goal of the new ethics rules is to inject greater equality into Congressional decision making. These rules both prohibit rich special interests from buying access to lawmakers (something the public can’t afford to do) and limit the influence of the special interest dollar on Congressional positions, votes and decisions.

If the Democrats hope to bring more fairness and democracy into the legislative process, then AIPAC should be first on their list of organizations whose overwhelming influence proscribes free debate and discussion.

— Igor Volsky

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For the new Democratic leadership, politics transcends policy. The Washington Post is reporting that House Democrats will break their campaign promise to allow Republicans a chance to debate the legislation of the first 100 hours (“They include tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage, allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on student loans.”) and instead “use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.”

Polls indicate that Americans support the Democratic initiatives. An Associated Press-AOL News poll found that:

  • 80% of Americans support raising the minimum wage (although the Democratic proposal to raise the wage in stages to $7.25/h is far from livable, by any standard)
  • 69% of respondents favor “the government making it easier for people to buy prescription drugs from other countries”
  • 56% “support easing restrictions on using federal money to pay for research on embryonic stem cells”

But my hunch is that Americans are also eager for a Congress which lives up to its democratic nature and embraces policy debate and discussion. While the Democrats can prevent the opposition from placing insurmountable hurdles to the passage of popular measures, party leadership must allow for a constructive policy debate. Focused dissent, debate and discussion are the mother of better policy.

For a party which criticized its opposition for short circuiting the minority to run on a platform of open government, bipartisanship and cooperation and then break its campaign pledge and adopt these very same un-democratic tactics is to exploit the voter and place personal power and politics ahead of sensible policy, democracy and the needs of Americans.

The Post article fails to mention that the Democrats have already backed off their campaign pledge to implement key 9/11 committee recommendations (which would have restructured congressional committees with oversight of the intelligence community) since the reform “would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels’ defense subcommittees.” Again, if the Democrats are looking to improve the lives and safety of ordinary Americans and win their confidence in ’08, they must stay true to their word and the principles of democracy; if they’re interested in simply maintaining control of Congress, then they are no better than their opposition.

— Igor Volsky

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