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September 5, 2006

expectations for the next Congress

What should we expect if the Democrats gain control of the U.S. House in November? If we're dreaming, we could imagine that they would propose an agenda to renew democracy at home and abroad--one that could also attract a few Republican votes. But there is no sign of that agenda on the House Democratic Leader's webpage. (Her statements on "issues" are almost completely negative, and virtually all of her proposals involve modest increases in federal spending for existing programs, or tax cuts.) Therefore, if we are realistic, we ought to hope for the following benefits:

1. More competent and efficient administration as a result of Congressional oversight. That assumes, however, that the Democrats will do a good job overseeing.

2. Justice, in the form of investigations that uncover genuine malfeasance in government. Congressional committees are not generally very good at investigating crimes. They are prone to grand-standing, bias, and bad strategy. But it's better to have imperfect congressional investigations than none at all.

3. Fiscal sanity, if Democrats block further tax cuts and Republicans block big spending increases. The Democrats could also achieve efficiencies by rewriting the prescription benefit. On the other hand, the existing tax cuts will remain in place, protected by the president's veto. At worst, we will see a bidding war with rival proposals for tax cuts and spending increases. (The House Democrats' webpage promises "middle class tax cuts" and tax breaks for businesses "to hire the unemployed.")

4. Generally more "conservative" politics, in the root sense of that word. Republicans will be less likely to achieve radical changes in the social contract, such as partially privatizing Social Security or deporting illegal immigrants. At the same time, all the proposals on Nancy Pelosi's website are highly incremental, fairly traditionalist--and have low odds of becoming law.

I think that divided government is desirable; and the Democrats' priorities match mine more closely than the Republicans' do. However, for anyone who is deeply troubled by our staggering rates of incarceration, the fact that only half of our minority children complete high school, or the threat of global warming, the present Democratic leadership promises relatively little. At best, a Democratic victory in November would be a small step in the right direction. Actual solutions will involve much deeper and longer-term change.

September 5, 2006 9:34 AM | category: none


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