Infidels and Traitors, or Infiltrators?
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Despite one of the most evenly divided Congresses in US history, the Bush administration seems to be having no difficulty whatever passing its legislation -- including an illogical budget and a reckless tax cut that even a conservative Democrat could hate. The Congress even confirmed almost every one of Bush's extremist candidates for his cabinet without so much as a filibuster.
So where's the gridlock? Pundits love to credit Bush's so-called bipartisanship and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's clever plan to put Democrats on some key committees early on. But the ease with which the GOP is calling the shots isn't so much about bipartisanship as it is about disloyalty and spinelessness among Democrats.
Take the Ashcroft confirmation, which the American Prospect tagged " The Big Fold." Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., threatened to filibuster to block the vote, which may have forced Ashcroft to withdraw. He didn't make good on the threat, and offered no explanation. Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc.; John Breaux, D-La.; Zell Miller, D-Ga.; Robert Byrd, D-Va.; Byron Dorgan, D-ND; Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.; Kent Conrad, D-ND; and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. all voted to confirm Ashcroft.
Many of the same names popped up last week when Senate Democrats gave the needed edge to the ridiculously extreme Bush tax cut through without significant argument. Things looked similar in the House, where six Democrats voted for the Bush budget: Robert Cramer, D-Ala.; Gary Condit, D-Calif.; Ken Lucas, D-Ky.; Christopher John, D-La.; James Traficant, D-Oh.; and Ralph Hall, D-Tex. The House defections make especially little sense, because the budget would have passed with plenty of breathing room even if the vote had been along party lines.
Said Breaux -- who's so conservative, Bush tried to get him into the cabinet -- "Is it a perfect document? Of course not. But does it advance the cause of government in a democracy that is almost evenly divided between the two parties? I think the answer is yes, it does."
Since when is expedience more important than party loyalty, or indeed, of good policy? If Congress is known for anything, it's for throwing over better judgment for petty party politics.
Worst among the party traitors is Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who is finishing out the term of the late Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes "Miller has renounced partisanship on the way to becoming every Republican's favorite Democrat ... He has been the only Democrat to co-sponsor President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal; the first Democrat to back John Ashcroft's appointment as attorney general; and one of a handful of Democrats to vote to roll back workplace safety, or ergonomics, rules put into place by the Clinton administration."
Miller was even rumored to be switching parties, after he laid into his fellow Democrats (the loyal ones) who voted against the Bush tax package. Miller says he doesn't plan to switch parties just yet. Too bad truth-in-advertising rules don't apply to politicians.
The disloyalty of the Democrats is now causing exactly the kind of infighting that could cause Deomcrats to lose even the little power they now have. Sen. Robert Byrd (who himself cross the party line to vote in favor of Ashcroft) has threatened to slash pork-barrel spending provisions for Congressional Democrats who broke ranks on the budget bill. If Byrd makes good on his threat, Max Baucus, D-Mon. and Max Cleland, D-Ga. -- both of whom are facing tought reelection bids in 2002 -- stand to lose the most. Byrd's threat could ultimately erase the illusion of parity in the Senate once and for all.
Much of the blame must fall on the shoulders of the Democratic leaders, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle. Their names were floated early in the post-election discussion about the next presidential race. But how these two can expect to command the confidence and loyalty of over half the nation when they can't even keep their own wards on task would be a neat trick. If there is a time for partisan politics, this is it.
Mom always taught me to look on the bright side, so maybe the Dems who are pledging to challenge Bush's slate of mostly conservative nominees for federal judgeships will prove that there's at least a little fight left in the party. But it may be too little too late.
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