A Broken Promise, Or A Necessary Concession?
Is this the first of several broken campaign promises, or a case of gaining the support of committee and subcommittee chairmen to get as large a package through as possible?
It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But with control of Congress now secured, Democratic leaders have decided for now against implementing the one measure that would affect them most directly: a wholesale reorganization of Congress to improve oversight and funding of the nation's intelligence agencies. Instead, Democratic leaders may create a panel to look at the issue and produce recommendations, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.
It may seem like a minor matter, but members of the commission say Congress's failure to change itself is anything but inconsequential. In 2004, the commission urged Congress to grant the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees' gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels' defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.
And this apparently won’t happen, as the appropriations and defense committee chairs don’t want to cede control over the intelligence community budgets to the intelligence committees, as recommended by the Commission. The story indicates that Pelosi’s ill-fated support of John Murtha for Majority Leader and her move to topple Jane Harman from Intelligence played a part in this decision.
Most of these “100 Hours” agenda items have broad political support, yet I am troubled that with power now within their grasp, the Democrats and specifically the incoming committee chairs will waffle and return to form, having their palms greased with corporate money to soften their commitment to change. This may happen with the promised Medicare Part D changes as well. And with Mitch McConnell cleverly expressing his willingness to work with Harry Reid on issues like the minimum wage (if the Democrats will agree to a small business tax cut), ethics and earmarks, immigration, and even Social Security, I suspect the legislative track record a year from now will look watered down compared to the “100 Hours” agenda, despite the public support for those items.
How should Pelosi and Reid test take advantage of McConnell’s offer? Should they go big and push forward with an aggressive agenda that includes shoring up Social Security without private accounts, improving the Medicare Part D program, pressing ahead with the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill, demanding tough ethics reforms, pushing stem-cell legislation, expanding health insurance coverage to all children, restoring pay-as-you-go budget rules, and fully funding the supplemental war appropriations and 9/11 Commission program recommendations and all domestic security needs through a rollback of upper income tax cuts. Or should they seek a limited agenda of issues that will get through Congress relatively easily, and leave it to the hearings to generate the heat for more changes?
Which approach would help the Democrats make the best case as effective congressional managers of the public’s business and earn them additional seats in 2008?