Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Proliferation Press: New Republic Gives Notes on Being a Successful Opposition Party

Posted by K.E. White on June 20, 2007

President Bush’s approval ratings have hit the high twenties. Fortunately his Democratic opponents aren’t fairer any better. Are Senate leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi to blame?

While Bush is on the defensive after vetoing a bill allowing increased stem cell research, John B. Judis offers some thoughtful advice to Democratic leaders in Congress:

(full text can be accessed by registering free at the New Republic)

Congress’s approval rating is even lower than President Bush’s–it’s at 23 percent according to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. And, in another poll, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s favorability rating is down there with Scooter Libby–at 19 percent. Some Democrats blame their low standing with the public on the difficulties inherent in controlling Congress when the opposition party controls the White House. The fact is that the Democrats, with only a 50-49 majority, do not have enough votes to override White House vetoes or even to stop a Republican filibuster. But Democrats have been in this situation before, and, while they were unable to get their bills signed, they were able to place the onus of failure on the White House and on the Republicans.

If Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want guidance, they should look back at what the Democrats did during the presidential term of George H.W. Bush. The Democrats had a brilliant Senate majority leader, George Mitchell, and a competent House speaker, Tom Foley, who generally deferred to Mitchell. Mitchell and Foley forced Bush to veto popular bills that also enjoyed some Republican support in Congress. They showed up Bush as a heartless extremist and split his own party. And they handed Democrat Bill Clinton a platform on which to run in the fall of 1992.

Pelosi has fared somewhat better than Reid, but that is probably because she has managed so far to avoid the spotlight on Iraq and immigration. But neither Reid nor Pelosi have yet devised the kind of measures that Mitchell and Foley used in 1991 and 1992 to win public support for the Democrats and to split the Republicans. Most of what they have passed from their election agenda–including minimum wage and a watered-down lobbying-reform bill–will quietly be enacted into law. Except for a measure funding stem-cell research, they haven’t come up with anything comparable to Family and Medical Leave. If they want to put the Democrats in a good position to retain Congress and win the White House, they had better start thinking. And they had better avoid initiatives that divide their own party and unite the opposition.

But his advice highlights an acute Congressional deficit: action on foreign policy. While Judis’s advice may be right (Congress should never flirt with cutting war funding while troops are deployed), where does this leave America’s federal system of checks and balances?

Proliferation Press tackled Congress’s wartime roll in this earlier article.

The apparent conclusion from merging this article with Judis’s advice: Congressional influence is greatest before the deployment of troops.

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