Saturday, November 11, 2006

Every Donkey Has Its Day

Well, the midterms came and went last week and - as predicted by pollsters and pundits - the Democrats have retaken the House and Senate. The question is what will they do with their new majorities?

Odds are the Senate will not be overly shaken up; a slim Republican majority is being replaced by a slim Democratic majority, and that Democratic majority is shaky, since it includes newly christened independent Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is a Democrat at heart - but he's always been unafraid to cross party lines when he believes its the right thing to do (his support for the war in Iraq, which is what pushed him out of the party by giving Ned Lamont the keys to Connecticut's Democratic primary, definitely qualifies), and given the Democrat's institutional support of Lamont in the election he's probably less likely than ever to buy into the whole "party discipline" idea. Throw in the fact that neither party has the votes to break a filibuster, and odds are that aside from a few cosmetic changes (committee chairmanships switching parties and Harry Reid settling into the majority leader's office) it will probably be business as usual in the upper house of Congress.

The House of Representatives, though? Well, that's a whole 'nother story, and it looks like its going to be a real bare knuckles throwdown. Putting on her moderate hat just before the election, new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged not to push impeachment, but the Congressman holding the gavel - newly minted chairman of the judiciary committee John Conyers - seems to agree with her now, though he wrote what many are calling the case for impeachment only a year ago. It will be interesting to see what position he takes a year from now, particularly if any other possible Constitutional issues come out. One of the war's (and the President's) most outspoken (and rude) critics, New York's own Charlie Rangel, is set to assume the chairman's seat in the Ways and Means committee, which puts him in position to block the administration's economic policy, beginning with his refusal to extend the Bush tax cuts past their current 2010 expiration date (and for the record, I think that's the right decision). As new Chairman of the Appropriations committee, Robert Byrd - who has been one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq war - could lead a charge to defund the war in Iraq (or at least squeeze the Pentagon to a very uncomfortable point). If he does that, American servicemen and women are going to be the biggest losers in what will likely devolve into a game of political chicken where the only people at risk of crashing are the ones not in control of the cars: Byrd could slice the budget, hoping the added risk to army personnel will force President Bush to end the war (which as Commander-in-chief is entirely at the President's discretion) and the White House could refuse to blink, hoping that an outcry at Byrd hurting the troops will force him to back off (and there's no question that Republican talk radio would do its part to whip up just such an outcry). And if we get into a real budget fight, Bush could always choose to veto the budget and allow a shut down of parts of the federal government, which is what Clinton did to Newt Gingrich way back when.

All in all, the next two years look like a gridlocked mess that may have us looking back on the last 6 years as an example of government running smoothely. And that, folks, is a frightening thought.

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