President George W. Bush has shown that with support from his dead-ender Republican allies in Congress he can prevent good bills from becoming law. Now let’s hope that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can stop bad bills from becoming law.
But don’t count on it after the Democratic leaders’ gutless performances in the last week.
House Democrats from the Judiciary and Intelligence committees drafted a bill that would revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to replace a stopgap measure that was hurriedly passed this summer. The new bill would maintain court jurisdiction over domestic wiretaps. The Dems refused to consider the White House’s demand of immunity for US phone companies that cooperated with the administration’s illegal wiretaps, at least until the White House produces long-sought documents on the origin and extent of the eavesdropping.
But when the Dems tried to bring the bill to the House floor, House Republicans tied it up in procedural knots. Rather than vote down the GOP, and risk being accused as “soft on terrorists,” the Dems pulled their own bill.
That left the initiative to the Senate, where Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), the Intelligence chairman, okayed a Republican bill that went along with the White House demands, not only allowing warrantless wiretaps but also providing retroactive immunity for telephone companies.
The Intel committee approved the bill Oct. 19 after being allowed to review documents related to warrantless surveillance program -- documents the Senate Judiciary Committee has not been allowed to see since they were subpoenaed three months ago. In an Oct. 22 letter to the White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said “it is wrongheaded to ask Senators to consider immunity without their being informed about the legal justifications purportedly excusing the conduct being immunized.”
In a press release, Rockefeller noted that, after reviewing the documents, the issue of whether the administration acted illegally in authorizing its warrantless surveillance program is still an “open question.”
So, Spencer Ackerman noted at TPMMuckraker.com (Oct. 23), “in other words, Rockefeller just blessed a program that he can’t yet certify is legal; and included in his blessing a blanket promise of immunity for companies that he can’t say didn’t break the law.”
When Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said he would put a hold on the Senate bill, it was reported that Reid still planned to bring up the bill in mid-November. That “raised some eyebrows” as a potential breach of much-vaunted Senate courtesy for a member of Reid’s own caucus.
It turns out that executives of the two biggest phone companies -- AT&T and Verizon -- gave Rockefeller more than $42,000 in political donations while seeking his support for immunity from lawsuits from customers who say their privacy was violated, the New York Times reported Oct. 23. According to OpenSecrets.org, AT&T also gave Harry Reid $22,000.
Dodd said he would filibuster the bill. We’ll see if there are 40 votes in the Senate to uphold the Bill of Rights -- because it looks like Reid and Rockefeller won’t be much help.
Dems Need Backbones
House Democratic leaders are frustrated that the public seems to be unaware that bipartisan majorities have passed lobbying and ethics reforms, an increase in the minimum wage, an increase in student aid, legislation to implement 9/11 Commission recommendations and other initiatives that President Bush has signed into law. Polls show that public approval of Congress remains lower than that of President Bush.
Dem leaders want the rank and file to do more to publicize those details before the presidential race dominates the news, Jonathan Kaplan reported in The Hill Oct. 23. Members are expected to hold more press conferences and town hall meetings, send out more newsletters and develop better online strategies.
A poll for National Public Radio conducted in early October by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies found that only 25% of voters approved of the job Congress is doing, while 38% approved of President Bush. (The news may not be as bad as it suggests: Greenberg polled in competitive congressional districts in August and found that the public’s disappointment is not directed at individual Dems, who led GOP candidates by an average of 51% to 42%.)
Bush’s 38% -- and some polls show his approval down in the mid-20s -- is the baseline Republican vote. Whether you like it or not, Bush has satisfied his base by cutting taxes for the rich, pursuing war in the Middle East that has enriched military contractors as well as the oil industry and holding the line against what conservatives consider to be socialized medicine.
The lower congressional approval rating is evidence that people don’t think Congress is following Democratic principles, which generally are popular.
As Markos Moulitsas wrote at DailyKos (Oct. 23), “People don’t want to know where congressional Democrats and Bush agreed. They don’t like Bush. They don’t want Democrats to agree with him. They’re not happy with where Bush has taken our country. They want to pick a fight with him.
“So oblige. Democrats should send good bill after good bill to Bush, and force him to deliver on those dozens of veto threats. Force him to veto withdrawal legislation. Force him to veto SCHIP. Force him to veto efforts to restore our Constitution to its intended glory.
“Then make THAT the focus of their PR blitz -- that Bush and Republicans are standing in the way of progress.
“Democratic numbers jumped dramatically when they held the line against Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security. Every time they’ve held strong, their numbers improve. Every time they capitulate to the Republicans, their numbers collapse.”
Al Krebs, our longtime columnist, died on Oct. 9 after a long struggle with agribusiness. He was 75. Al helped us get The Progressive Populist started in 1995. His column in our inaugural issue was “Populism: Born and Bred in Agrarian Revolt,” which tied the populist movement of the late 19th century to the revolt against corporate culture in the late 20th century. As “The Calamity Howler,” Al contributed to nearly every issue of our Journal from the Heartland. His proposal for a “21st-Century Populist Declaration of Independence” in the Sept. 15 issue was designed to carry the populist movement into the new century. His final column, “Chavez Words Still Relevant,” in the Oct. 1 issue, featured excerpts from a 1984 speech given by his friend, Cesar Chavez, at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.
Al didn’t give us many clues about his declining health. In February he wrote what appeared to be good news, that surgery succeeded in removing a cancerous tumor from his liver. “So now the only thing I have to consistently worry about is that ‘cancer’ in the White House and how it is systematically destroying our nation and the world in which we live! Taking liberties with the old ’60s refrain may be apropos here -- those who are not part of of the cure, are part of the disease!”
Al’s liver finally gave up on him but let’s continue to work toward the cure for the cancer that is destroying our nation.
(A memorial service for Al will be held Nov. 30 at 4:30 p.m., at the Chapel at Seattle University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1957. Also see Heather Gray’s tribute on page 20.) -- JMC
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2007
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