Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Advice for the Democrats

The Democrats are in town, and much as I oppose portions of their agenda, I hope that they work well with the President to protect us from terror attacks, promote economic growth, and...

Well, I'll start with that, and see where we go from there.

As one who was in the House the last time it changed hands, I have some advice for incoming Democrats. Be ambitious, and remember that the tone is set early.

When Republicans took over the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, we had no one who had ever served in the majority. We had relatively few veterans who felt wedded to the structure the Democrats had created, and we had a huge Freshman class that had never served in Washington at all. There were great ideas about how to reform the institution and make it work better.

A lot of those got implemented, and I think the GOP did a good job in eliminating the House Bank, eliminating LSOs, reorganizing committees, changing their foci, instituting term limits for chairmen, etc. However, there were those who pushed for broader reforms: like changing the budget process, reforming gift rules and dramatically reducing the number of committees. In almost all cases, the reforms that did not get made in the first few weeks never got made. And even the ones that were put into place were later undercut.

So my advice to the incoming Democrats is: if you think reforms are needed, make them now.

Speaker-elect Pelosi has laid out the agenda here. Get to it! The things you don't do now will probably never get done.

One reason is that the Democratic House already comes with a SHOCKING degree of entrenched interests. In 1994, no Republicans had served in the majority. Twelve years later, more than 80 House Democrats are still around from the last Democratic majority - which featured the long-forgotten Tom Foley and David Bonior as its leaders.

It's rare that old-timers see the need for reform, and there are a lot of old-timers on the Democratic side. And to have waited 12 years to return to the majority... well, you probably want to enjoy the perks that go with the title.

Just on the Congressional reform side, Pelosi promises to ban lobbyist gifts and travel, extend the 'cooling off period' for staff and members to lobby their friends, enhance disclosure, prevent elected officials from pressuring companies on hiring of lobbyists, and bring openness to the committee process.

(By the way, conspicuously missing from the list is an independent, outside ethics process. This surprises me; have I missed it? I think that voters will forever have contempt for the ethics process if they believe that Members of Congress are protecting other Members and preserving a gentlemen's agreement to limit ethics investigatons overall. If the Democrats don't make this change, it will come back to haunt them eventually.)

But with regard to reform, how does Charlie Rangel feel about those promises? How does John Dingell feel? Does Harry Reid agree? And if the Senate refuses to play by the same rules - as they usually do - what do you do then?

The rest of the Democratic agenda is all liberal dogma, so I have a hard time picking out any good examples of bold ideas that would be good to implement today. But I think you get my point.

One of the reasons the GOP lost power was the perception of arrogance and putting the Congress above the law. If Pelosi wants to change it, she better change it right away.

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