With the House returning from its two-week recess today, the pressure is mounting to start delivering on some of their promises given that many bills — such as one to raise the minimum wage and another to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission — have languished even though both chambers have passed their own versions and there is broad agreement among Democrats on the thrust of the legislation.
The House got off to a fast start, passing its “Six for ’06” campaign agenda items in the first 100 hours, but those bills have since been slowed down in the Senate or in conferences that have yet to occur. While 17 measures have been signed into law this year, the only major piece of legislation to make it to President Bush’s desk was the catch-all spending bill for the leftover fiscal 2007 appropriations.
Even something as basic to running Congress — and to Democrats’ 2006 campaign platform — as lobbying and ethics reform has taken a relative back seat as the debate over the Iraq War has taken up much of leadership’s attention. Still, Democrats in both chambers say they are moving legislation on multiple tracks.
“Certainly Iraq is the priority. It’s the No. 1 issue by far for voters and it’s very important and it deserves a lot of attention,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “But we can walk and chew gum at the same time...”
Perhaps more than any other bill, the minimum-wage hike was seen as a slam dunk for Democrats, particularly since the president is apt to sign it. But the bill has stalled amid bickering between the House and Senate over the size of an accompanying package of business tax breaks. The Senate bill includes $8.3 billion in tax breaks, while the House reluctantly passed a measure with $1.3 billion in breaks following a House Ways and Means hearing in which Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) savaged the Senate bill for not sufficiently targeting small businesses.
But a Ways and Means spokesman said Democrats are hopeful that they can reach a compromise soon.
Leaders in both chambers included versions of the wage hike on the supplemental war spending bill, and as conference talks on the larger bill begin next week, so will discussions about the minimum wage, aides said.
Meanwhile, neither the House nor the Senate have appointed conferees on the 9/11 bill, which is designed to establish more safeguards against terrorism on U.S. soil.
Additionally, Democrats made the GOP’s “culture of corruption” a central tenet of their 2006 campaign message, but the House has yet to pass a bill to require more disclosure of lobbyists’ dealings with Congress. While the Senate passed a bill to both impose those requirements on lobbyists and themselves, the House has passed rules changes only for its Members.
It's surprising that the Democrats did not anticipate that the 100 day mark might be a milestone at which they were 'graded.' If they were thinking ahead, they might have put a priority on at least getting a few more of their priorities to the President's desk.