In The News
New Congress despite rhetoric has huge shoes to fill
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted January 4, 2011
The GOP jubilation as the 112th Congress was sworn in only magnified how misleading were the headlines about the do-nothing 111th Congress – an attitude that was a big part of the Democrats’ election loss last November.
Maybe too slow and not clear enough, certainly for the voters, but in terms of results and keeping the US stable through a crisis, that Congress in the last two years will stand as one of the most productive and genuinely progressive in recent times. (Not Democrat progressive but US progressive).
Republicans feasted on the clever politics of saying no, and selling America on how a black president was forcing gridlock, encouraging voters to anticipate disappointment. Certainly belief in gridlock gripped the media and the public in the waning months of Democratic control of both Houses and the White House.
But a bird’s-eye view of the full run reveals some remarkable change for America’s better, along bipartisan lines and now reflected in economic numbers and a healthier Wall Street (a steady return toward normal that the current president will certainly not get any credit for). Interesting how the healthier hire and recovery numbers only appeared after Nov. 2.
Oh yes, the media will still be consumed with the largely feeble attempts to undermine those achievements and to nibble away at the edges of what the public now generally accepts as positive health care reform legislation (which does what even many in the GOP originally wanted, to include more citizens in health insurance to bring down over time the costs for everyone).
But the continuing attacks on the fringes of victory, spending taxpayer money in showboating, shouldn’t deflect attention from the broad sweep of rescue and redemption of America.
It began with the successful salvage operations that at the minimum pulled America back from the economic meltdown (some say a second Great Depression). Whether enough was done can be argued for years, but the dreaded TARP started under the Bush years and run successfully by the Obama administration certainly righted the financial institutions (some say unfortunately returning them to the comfortable excess of the past but certainly putting in more controls and actually now on the path to making money out of the taxpayers’ investment).
Despite the negative and now discredited GOP rhetoric, the Obama stimulus bill actually has created as well as saved millions of jobs (though millions more are still needed) while providing the largest middle class tax cut in history. Other successes despite naysayers were Cash for Clunkers and the temporary rescue of the American auto industry back to profitability, keeping a million jobs deemed lost by the GOP; the stiffer rules imposed on the financial industry; a new agency to protect consumer credit with transparent rules, and dozens of other bills that added to America’s security, education and technological advances.
The last few weeks of Congress that voters understandably expected to end in gridlock found the president accepting GOP blackmail and the weakest part of lower tax rates they insisted upon (those for the very rich, who spend the least of what they get on the US economy) in order to get cuts for the middle class and a backdoor immediate stimulus of larger size than the original stimulus bill.
Obama also got out of the late flurry a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for the military, which most of the country except John McCain supported, the START Treaty (ditto), the first substantial change in decades to protect food and attack E. coli, health coverage for 9/11 responders, unemployment tax relief and much more.
In short, the productivity that took too long to reach and many thought would never get there did. Not that the GOP policy of “no” didn’t have destructive consequences. A number of deficit reducing measures went down to defeat, most prominent the DREAM Act, which would have cut out $1.3 billion out of the deficit in 9 years while increasing revenue some $2.5 billion. Also blocked were any meaningful attack on global warming and even something else both parties once wanted, the closing of Guatanamo.
Despite those failures and the continuing mutterings from the left about principles abandoned in the rush for compromise, the lesson is clear. The new Congress will have to do headstands to be even a distant echo of the 111th Congress. The danger for the Senate Democrats, still in control, is not to be seen as obstructionist to the House Republicans as the former GOP once was in blocking some 400 bills sent the Senate’s way. How to resist bad ideas while influencing good ones will be a big task unless the Democrats want to be equal opportunity extortionists.
The task is even harder if the House GOP pushes ahead on useless repeal bills and inflated subpoenas (trying to pretend that Fannie and Freddie Mac should have been in the financial regulatory bill they fought against getting passed in the first place, an exercise in hypocrisy). One sign that the GOP House is in a hate mood toward all unions came with its forced change after 122 years in the name of a committee from the Education and Labor Committee to the Education and Workforce Committee. The change was petty – and it didn’t create one single job.
Now it might be a good thing if the biggest government scandals of the past decade were exposed finally to high-profile House hearings, such as “how the United States was misled into the Iraq invasion, how the Afghan War was bungled, how torture became a US practice, or how bank deregulation and Wall Street greed nearly destroyed the economy.” except, as author Robert Parry pointed out, none of those are targets of the GOP-led House investigations. These topics are off-limits because they started when the GOP had control.
Obama from his inaugural on spoke about reducing spending and insisted on “pay as you go” legislation while resisting left-wing calls to investigate all of the above. But the moderate deal he cut with the Republicans to break the 2010 logjam will add to the federal deficit from the get-go. That’s something the GOP insisted on in the deal but are now quick to ignore, even as they ignore how the health care bill they want to repeal would directly bring down the deficit. Moreover, the GOP is declaring out of bounds the big ticket cuts in spending such as defense, hoping the public will accept nickels and dimes instead and ignore the Republicans’ continued embrace of corporate money and lobbyists.
So keep your fingers crossed about new jobs and real concern about spending –but face reality. We actually had a do-something Congress, but we are unlikely to see that again for two more years. Maybe an intelligently angry public – not a reactionary one – could cut into that time. More likely, it will be two more years to do anything good!