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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So here's the question: Will it work?
Posted by Jill | 6:43 AM
And not just will it work, but will it actually change anything? And will the American people appreciate the effort?

Incoming Congressional Democrats are determined to change the way Congress has done business under Republican rule -- the "one true way and purge our enemies" tactics that gave Democrats absolutely no say in government, the secretive, unread, pork-laden bills passed without debate in the dead of night, the blatant selling of Congressional favors to lobbyists.

The question is whether this will mark a return to "government the way it oughta be" and be applauded by the American people, or if the Republicans will do what they can, aided and abetted by the gasbags of wingnut media, to cut Democrats off at the knees and convince Americans that one-party rule, furtiveness, and complete silence by the minority party is preferable.

After chafing for years under what they saw as flagrant Republican abuse of Congressional power and procedures, the incoming majority has promised to restore House and Senate practices to those more closely resembling the textbook version of how a bill becomes law: daylight debate, serious amendments and minority party participation.

Beyond the parliamentary issues, Democrats assuming control on Jan. 4 said they also wanted to revive collegiality and civility in an institution that has been poisoned by partisanship in recent years. In a gesture duly noted by Republicans, the incoming speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, offered Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who is remaining in Congress, the use of prime office space in the Capitol out of respect for his position.

Mrs. Pelosi has consulted with the new Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, in developing initiatives for the year, including a task force to explore independent enforcement of ethics rules. That was in sharp contrast to two years ago, when Republicans — who only grudgingly consulted Democrats — pushed through a set of diluted ethics rules that they were later forced to rescind. Democrats also supported a severance package for senior Republican aides, but the spending was blocked in the last hours of Congress by conservative Republicans.

A statement of principles by House Democrats calls for regular consultation between the Democratic and Republican leaders on the schedule and operations of the House and declares that the heads of House committees should do the same.

“We are going to give people an honest and contemplative body they can be proud of once more,” said Representative Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York and the incoming chairwoman of the Rules Committee.

Veteran Democrats said they did not sense that their colleagues wanted to retaliate against Republicans for perceived slights over the last decade. “We know we won in part because they got so nasty and unlikable,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Mr. Frank and Representative Edward J. Markey, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat, pointed to another difference between incoming Democrats and the Republicans who took control in 1995 and saw their mission as one of purging Democrats and hobbling government.

“Democrats want government to work,” said Mr. Markey, who under the Republican majority was often frozen out despite his senior position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “I have not had a conversation where Democrats sit around talking about who they want to get back at.”

Yet pledges to engage Republicans legislatively carry risks. If Democrats do not follow through or revert to practices they have spent recent years condemning, they are certain to come under attack from watchdog groups and Republicans. Republicans are already accusing Democrats of backsliding by not guaranteeing them hearings and amendments on legislation to be considered in an initial 100-hour legislative program that Democrats view as a showcase for their new majority.

But Republicans are hoping Democrats stick to their guns and allow the minority a stronger voice on legislation. The opposition leadership said it would take the opportunity to put forward initiatives that could be potentially troublesome for newly elected Democrats in Republican-leaning districts who within months will have to defend their hard-won seats.

That very attitude is not promising, at least not where any potential change in the way Republicans to government business is concerned. For Republicans, it's still all about the politics, all about regaining the seats of power. None of it is about government, none of it is about doing the people's work.

On the one hand, I applaud the Democrats' ambition to return government to the people. On the other hand, I have no confidence in the American people's ability to detect when the reptilian brain is being appealed to and to resist. I would hope that the minute the Republicans start with their customary strongarming, the Democrats change course and get tough.

The stakes are too high to allow the corruption and selling of government to the highest bidder to continue.
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