Friday, August 31, 2007

Larry Craig, Tim Johnson and the Quarrel Majority

With the resignation of Republican senator Larry Craig all but certain, we return once again to the question of the U.S. Senate majority. Since their electoral thumpin’ of Republicans last fall, the Democratic majority—and the extent to which it has been able to affect change—has been remarkably tenuous. Democrats aren’t doing celebratory back flips at Craig’s fall from grace because, for all they know, their 51-49 majority may be following him out the door in fifteen months.

South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson’s return to work (after brain surgery and extensive rehabilitation), though a significant personal triumph, cannot be chalked up as a win for Democrats just yet because his ability to perform the demanding duties of public service remains to be seen. Johnson is back—but for how long? Voters will decide whether the senator is spent or if he can continue serving. A Hollywood script would no doubt call for a full recovery and reelection in 2008, but both represent formidable challenges in reality. Sources on Johnson’s health have been tight-lipped as Harry Reid & Co. exude cautious optimism.

The Democrats understandably hope to maintain the status quo, but one must begin to wonder—at what cost? With nearly a tie in the Senate since last November, the advancing of the majority’s agenda has demanded strict party-line voting. Unlike the Republican majority in power under the Clinton administration, Democrats today don’t have much room to vote with conscience; a single naysayer and the whole thing’s out the window.

This has curtailed politicians’ ability to think for themselves and effectively limited Congressional productivity. The $124 billion Iraq spending bill was debated, vetoed, and diluted to the point where timetables for troop withdrawal, the bill’s primary aim, were no longer included. The immigration bill was bungled to such an extreme that this author still lacks a clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding its demise. Is this a majority in name only? Where are the results?

Moreover, is this tooth-and-nail paradigm beneficial to the agenda of either party, or the American people? On a side note, it is not much of a stretch to infer that this us-and-them scenario has contributed to the poisonous climate in Washington to which both parties can and do attest.

Despite their many differences, all of the presidential candidates are talking about big plans for change: significantly reevaluating the situation in Iraq, getting control of our borders and keeping jobs here at home, to name a few. To accomplish any of these goals, we will need more than a new administration in the White House; we will need an effective, focused Congress. Despite the shortcomings of our two main political parties, less than four percent of the voters supported colors other than red and blue in 2006. Read: We want to believe that, between the two of you, you can solve these problems.

Events like sex scandals and life-threatening diseases, while great for front-page headlines, throw a veil over the fact that a small majority is really no majority at all. The next fifteen months will see the end of the current administration and, moreover, the last opportunity for this Senate to justify its current composition.


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