Stand Up, Democrats

N ow would be a good time for Democrats in Congress to stand up to George W. Bush. .
If Democrats were waiting for a poll to tell them it's alright to speak up for progressive principles, a Washington Post-ABC News survey, released Feb. 26 before Bush's address to Congress, obliges. It found 35% of respondents said the top priority for the budget surplus should be to increase spending on programs such as education and health care and 25% said the top priority should be strengthening Social Security. Only 22% favored a tax cut as the top priority.

If there is a tax cut, 53% preferred a smaller break targeted mainly for lower and middle-income people, along the lines that Democrats are proposing.

People recognize that Bush's tax cuts go mainly to the rich and take away from programs to help the working poor. Citizens for Tax Justice reported that when the Bush tax cuts are fully implemented after 10 years, the richest 1% would get $774 billion. Meanwhile, Bush's budget can't come up with $736 billion to provide comprehensive Medicare prescription drug benefits for all seniors. And his proposal of tax credits to buy health insurance offers little help for the 43 million working poor who are uninsured, much less the millions more who are underinsured, or their employers who must bear the rising costs of health coverage.

Also, Bush relies on blue-sky projections of a strong economy for another 10 years to furnish the budget surplus that allows him to give these tax breaks to the wealthy. If, as expected, the economy slows down, then existing programs will have to be cut to pay for those tax breaks.

On the other hand, conservatives rely on pessimistic economic forecasts to justify their drumbeat for the privatization of Social Security. However, they don't explain how workers will be better off if they invest in a slumping stock market instead of contributing to a stable Social Security fund. Nor have they clarified how benefits for the current generation of retirees would be paid if the next generation "opts out" of the system.

Many congressional Democrats have been preoccupied with the embarrassment of former President Bill Clinton, arising from his questionable pardons of wealthy and well-connected miscreants as he departed the White House. The media apparently can't let go of Clinton and neither can congressional Republican leaders, who are calling hearings to look into the outgoing president's actions. They apparently have little in mind other than diverting attention from their attempt to raid the Treasury on behalf of their own wealthy and well-connected benefactors. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., has proposed the diverting spectacle of impeaching Clinton after he already has left office, but yet another hauling before the bar of the ex-president, who is still more popular than the incumbent pretender, is perhaps too much for Democrats to hope for.

Republicans might decide that there are diminishing returns in beating up on Clinton, but if they persist in calling in the former president to explain his last-minute pardons, it is only right that Democrats call in former President George H.W. Bush to explain some of his more odoriferous clemencies. As Joe Conason of Salon.com noted Feb. 27, the elder Bush's pardons included Armand Hammer, the oilman who had pleaded guilty in 1975 to laundering $54,000 in illicit contributions to Nixon's reelection war chest. Hammer got his presidential pardon in 1989 only months after he contributed $100,000 to the Republican Party, and another $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle Inaugural committee.

In 1990, Conason notes, Bush's Justice Department set free Orlando Bosch, a notorious anti-Castro terrorist who was serving a prison term for entering the United States illegally. American intelligence and law enforcement authorities believed that Bosch was responsible for several bombings, including a 1976 explosion that brought down a Cuban airliner, killing all 76 civilians aboard, although Venezuelan prosecutors had failed to convict him of that crime. But Bosch was allowed to go free in Florida.

Conason notes that much of the credit for freeing the alleged mass murderer went to a budding local politician named Jeb Bush who by 1990, already become wealthy in real estate and other deals with the same Cuban exile businessmen who pressed Bosch's cause. Congress might still be interested in what role Jeb played and what he got in return.

Then, Conason notes, on Jan. 18, 1993, a few weeks after his Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of Caspar Weinberger and other defendants who might have implicated him in the Iran-contra scandal, Bush I signed a clemency order freeing Aslam Adam from Butner federal prison in North Carolina. A Pakistani national, Adam had served eight years of a 55-year sentence for smuggling $1.5 million worth of heroin into the United States. He wouldn't have been eligible for parole for another two years.

The commutation of Adam's sentence was mentioned in a single paragraph on an inside page of the Washington Post; the New York Times didn't cover it at all; and nobody else except the Charlotte Observer asked why, Conason noted. In 1994 Eric Nadler examined the Adam story for Rolling Stone and established that Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., a stalwart friend of the Pakistani military regime, had interceded on Adam's behalf.

Conason noted that Bush, a former CIA director, "may have had his own occult foreign policy or national security reasons for releasing Adam -- but none ever came to light. And no one in Congress or the media ever demanded that Bush explain why he had freed a narcotics trafficker."

As Robert Parry writes in our cover story, some of that willingness to overlook the excesses of the previous administration may be attributed to a distaste for fighting that is passed off as bipartisanship. The Republicans have no such scruples. The GOP won Congress in 1994 in large part by sticking together to stop the Democratic majority from accomplishing any major progressive initiatives. Then, to win back the White House this past election, the Republicans employed every dirty trick at their disposal, finally resorting to the mossbacks on the US Supreme Court to stop the count when it appeared that the Florida votes would turn against them.

How did Democrats respond to this power grab? First the Senate caucus left the Congressional Black Caucus out to dry when not a single white senator would sign onto the black House members' demand for a debate of Florida voting irregularities. Then Senate Democrats backed off on a threat to filibuster John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general, causing Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to gloat, "They didn't have the guts." Now, in a further insult, Bush follows up by naming right-wing lawyer Ted Olson, who argued the Florida vote-suppression case before the Supreme Court, to be his solicitor general. The Democratic response is subdued.

Bush has laid out his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut, which would pay back his benefactors and offer a pittance for working Americans who can't pay for health insurance or medicine but will be the first to suffer as the economy cools off. And Bush still wants to privatize Medicare, Social Security, education and God knows what else. All this from someone who trailed in the popular vote, needed the Supreme Court to boost him to an Electoral College victory and now claims the lowest approval rating, at 55%, of any incoming president in 50 years. For the Democrats, House Leader Dick Gephardt and Senate Leader Tom Daschle offered to work with Bush toward "principled compromises," but promised to "fight, and fight hard" when Bush's proposals "threaten the prosperity of all Americans."

Call your member of Congress through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Send Democratic senators a cough drop to encourage them to fight and filibuster, if necessary, c/o US Senate, Washington DC 20510. If you don't have a Democratic senator, send a cough drop to Daschle so he can pass them out to whomever needs them.

The rich and big business interests know Bush and the Republicans will fight for their interests. Working people could use some Democrats who are willing to fight for them. -- JMC

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