If Democrats take over Congress, they plan quick action to hike the minimum wage, reform the Medicare drug plan, make it easier to finance college and call the Bush administration to account for the debacle in Iraq.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who would become the next speaker, has promised to pass within the first 100 hours of a new Congress an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, from the current hourly pay of $5.15. Pelosi also would enact the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission, which the GOP Congress has ignored.
On health care, Democrats would remove the Republican ban on the government negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. Bush said recently he would resist changes despite the potential for great cost savings. Dems also would dare Bush to cast a second veto against one of the most popular bills passed by Congress last year, to allow federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research.
On education, Democrats also hope to revamp the No Child Left Behind bill, which comes up for renewal next year. Bush worked with Democrats to pass the bill in 2001, but reneged on a promise to fully fund it. Dems also will try to restore the Head Start program as well as money Republicans cut from college aid programs.
The Judiciary Committee under John Conyers (D-Mich.) would launch oversight hearings on the Justice Department's conduct of the "war on terrorism," looking at everything from the secret searches and wiretaps to how the FBI treats whistleblowers. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) who might be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he also would hold hearings on abuse of terrorism detainees and on war profiteering.
The American public supports Pelosi's proposed "First 100 Hours" agenda. Newsweek found an overwhelming majority says allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies should be a top priority for a Democratic Congress (74%, including 70% of Republicans); 68% want increasing the minimum wage to be a top priority, including 53% of Republicans; 62% want investigating impropriety by members of Congress to be a top priority; and 58% want investigating government contracts in Iraq to be a top priority.
Pelosi's "First 100 Hours" plan is good as far as it goes, but Democrats should go further in taking the fight to the Bush administration. Dems should pass the National Health Insurance Act, a bill sponsored by Conyers to expand Medicare to cover all Americans. Nothing would help working-class Americans and small businesses more than the federal government assuming responsibility for health coverage.
Republicans in the thrall of the insurance industry probably would filibuster such a bill in the Senate, but it would be good to get lawmakers on the record for and against this needed health-care reform.
Democrats should pass the bill by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) to require electronic voting machines to print out ballots that would establish a paper trail for election audits.
Democrats should pass the Voting Rights Amendment by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), which would establish a constitutional right to vote and have that vote counted.
Democrats should pass the bill by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis., likely Appropriations chairman) and Barney Frank (D-Mass., likely Financial Services chairman) to set up public financing of campaigns for Congress.
Democrats should pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards for union representation. It also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes, and authorize stronger penalties for violations of the law when workers seek to form a union. Its sponsor, George Miller (D-Calif.), is likely Education and Workforce chairman.
Finally, Pelosi has been quoted as saying that impeachment is off the table. We think it's a mistake to call for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney before we find out exactly what they've done, but if a Democratic Congress, after questioning White House and Pentagon officials under oath, finds that Bush and Cheney have lied about the reasons they invaded Iraq, resulting in 24,000 US casualties, including 2,800 dead, and uncounted numbers of Iraqi dead and wounded, and if they find that the Bush administration spied on Americans without court approval, as the law clearly required, and if they find other ways the president and vice president violated their oaths, then impeachment might be warranted. After all, Republicans lowered the impeachment standard to lying about consensual sex with an adult.
Many on the Left complain that Democratic leaders have been too accommodating to the Republicans. We think Pelosi and Democratic Chairman Howard Dean are trying to change that. Dean's project to rebuild the party and run candidates in all 50 states was criticized by Democratic Congressional Campaign Chairman Rahm Emanuel and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Chairman Chuck Schumer, but Dean succeeded in taking the fight to an increasing number of vulnerable Republicans who looked safe a few months ago.
If liberals and progressives want to stop George W. Bush and his runamuck administration, the first step is to put the opposition party in control of Congress Nov. 7. Put people like Conyers and Leahy in charge of their respective judiciary committees and we'll see if the Democrats can hobble those ducks in the White House for the next two years.
The Military Commissions Act that streamlines the rules for judging suspected terrorists is unconstitutional on its face. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) admitted that the provision that bars US courts from habeas corpus review of detentions violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which says the right to challenge detention "shall not be suspended" except in cases of "rebellion or invasion." (Specter voted for the bill anyway. It passed the Senate 65-34 after the House approved it 253-168. Twelve Senate Dems and 32 House Dems joined the stampede. Unfortunately, Republican demagoguery has made it politically risky to stand up for the Bill of Rights -- but at least a solid majority of Dems in Congress stood up for due process.)
The bill also undermines the protection of international prisoners under the Geneva Conventions. It challenges court precedents that constitutional protections apply equally to citizens and noncitizens under US jurisdiction. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who suffered abuse as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, should be ashamed of signing off on this bill that allows captors to determine what amounts to torture.
No sooner had Bush signed the bill than the Justice Department notified the US Court of Appeals in D.C. that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at Guantanamo Bay.
There is no guarantee that the courts will uphold the Constitution, of course. In the meantime innocent people surely will fall through the sizeable cracks opened up by the law. The judgment of history will set the Military Commissions Act down with such miscarriages as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Sedition Act during World War I and the arbitrary internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The Bush administration has cited the precedent of Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, but it should be pointed out that there was a civil war going on at the time. -- JMC
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