The Next 100 Hours
Friday 19 January 2006
Something really weird is going on here. All of a sudden, the folks in Congress are behaving as if they actually
represent ... well ... the people. Aren't they supposed to be hauling water for President Bush? What happened to all
those arm-twisting, rule-changing, ethics-shredding shows on C-SPAN?
Oh, wait. That's right. November happened.
The "100 Hours" legislative push commemorating the Democratic takeover of the House concluded yesterday. In what
actually amounted to 87 hours of bill-passing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her newly empowered crew passed a slew of bills
that accomplished two signal goals: They helped actual people, and they simultaneously served up a walloping dose of
Listerine to get the taste of the last twelve years out of our mouths.
Among the bills passed this week was a boost to the federal minimum wage, an expansion of embryonic stem-cell research,
a law allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, a cut in student-loan interest rates, an implementation of
port security rules, a move to recoup billions of dollars in lost royalties from oil and gas companies, and a rollback
of tax breaks for that industry.
Translation: They helped poor people, sick people, old people, students and national security, while getting back some
of the taxpayer cash frittered away by the loose-handed oil boys in Washington.
The Senate, which tends to move at a far more glacial pace, got into the act as well. According to the Washington Post,
the Senate "approved 96 to 2 expansive legislation to curtail the influence of lobbyists, tighten Congressional ethics
rules and prevent the spouses of senators from lobbying senators and their staffs. The Senate legislation ... would ban
gifts, meals and travel funded by lobbyists, and would force lawmakers to attach their names to special-interest
provisions and pet projects that they slip into bills. Lawmakers would have to pay charter rates on corporate jets, not
the far-cheaper first-class rates they pay now."
The timing of the passage of this legislation was cute. Newspapers across America carried a headline announcing it,
with the headline "Ex-Ohio Representative Ney Sentenced to 30 Months" just beneath. Ney, you will recall, was one of the
representatives caught up in the astonishing Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. The sentence, as it turns out, was harsher
than the one recommended by prosecutors in the case.
Before anyone in the Democratic caucus breaks an arm patting himself on the back, however, one all-important area must
be addressed. The Democrats campaigned on all the issues they managed to legislate this week, including ethics reform,
but the issue of Iraq and their promises about same stood out above all else. At this moment, their intentions towards
addressing this problem remain murky.
A majority of Americans want the United States to begin actively removing itself from that conflict, and also want a
clear plan as to how this will be accomplished. Bush, for his part, wants nothing to do with the will of the people, and
is planning to "surge" more than 20,000 troops into the region. The Democratic reaction, thus far, has been a
non-binding resolution against the war from the Senate, and a promise from Speaker Pelosi not to cut the war funding in
The Senate resolution seems to make some amount of sense. There can be no military or tactical solution to Iraq without
the political will to find one, and that political will is absent in the White House. It will take more than angry
Democrats to create this will. Republican rank-and-file members will have to defect from Bush's plans, and this
resolution appears to be a first step towards gathering a loud bipartisan consensus that things must change. It was,
after all, three Republicans who convinced Nixon to leave office after all that shouting from the other side of the
The Pelosi promise to leave funding for the Iraq occupation unmolested, however, is troubling. People want the war
stopped and the troops brought home, and the purse strings are the most effective way to accomplish this. Setting a firm
date for the cessation of funds creates a hard line that cannot be crossed, and would require the administration to
actively begin preparations for an end to our involvement in the conflict. Pelosi's promise removes that very large club
from the arsenal.
There is more to this, of course, than simple political cowardice. Democrats who don't want to empower the "You don't
support the troops!" demagoguery that is sure to come in the wake of any meddling with the war budget. "Stop funding the
war" is easy to say, but the gritty details of a budget like this complicate matters. Killing the Iraq budget could also
kill funding the rehabilitation of wounded veterans, health benefits and other vital programs embedded in the bill.
Beyond the threat of political browbeating lives the actual threat of screwing the very soldiers the Democrats wish to
Democratic Representative Charles Rangel nailed the problem in his usual blunt fashion. "If my black ass was in Korea
during the war and people got fed up with it," said Rangel, "and they cut off the money so I couldn't get some snowshoes
or underwear, well, goddamn, you are cutting the wrong people."
It comes down to this. If Pelosi and her people are unwilling to navigate the dangerous waters surrounding the Iraq
budget, they had better be prepared for a loud roar of outrage from the base of the party. Further, if they have chosen
to leave aside the most direct way to end the war, their main task now is to come up with an equally effective plan to
terminate the occupation. If the Democrats merely shrink from this tough fight, they will have proven to be as cowardly
and tone-deaf as the fellow bunkered down at 1600 Pennsylvania.
The 100 Hours thing was a good start, and it will help people. Let's see what the next 100 hours brings.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know
and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence
. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation
, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.