There is plenty for Democrats to celebrate as the 119th Congress gavels to order, but this Democrat wonders if we need to temper our hurrahs and reset our goals.
True, we can raise a toast to gaining control of the House of Representatives. That means not only a Democratic Speaker, but also control of House rules, committees and calendars.
Control of committees not only translates into the oft-noted ability to investigate this corrupt administration but also to shaping all committee work (where most Congressional work gets done) and managing the lion’s share of committee staffs.
In the long-term, perhaps even more important than the above is the incoming Democratic freshman class. Taken as a whole, it better reflects the country’s age, religious, sex, racial and ethnic complexion and complexities more than any prior freshman group. It also boasts the nation’s first Native American congresswoman and first Muslim congresswomen in addition to a record number of newly-elected women and what appear to be more than a few burgeoning political stars.
But at least two things worry me amidst all the good.
First, Congress is open, but parts of the federal government are not, and the Democrats are doing little to open it. Instead, they seem fixed on yet another internecine partisan battle, this one with federal employees used as political pawns.
It is likely that their efforts would be better directed to helping repair the Roman ruins that Congress has come to so closely resemble. Simply put, our second branch of government is as decrepit and crumbling as the Roman Colosseum. This continuing dysfunction inflicts deep damage on our country and its people. Our nation is falling behind globally according to several important measures and many Americans’ quality of life has slipped notably over the last two generations.
Instead of going down the same destructive path, the nation needs Congress to repair itself and begin passing effective bipartisan legislation in any number of areas, such as: vast infrastructure improvements; affordable and available healthcare; and, any number of initiatives to combat global warming and mitigate its already present effects.
Yes, I know the latter would not be easy in the face of a consistently obstinate and doctrinaire Republican party. However, Congressional rebuilding needs to begin. Instead of this, however, the Democratic party is breaking from the gate with more partisan warfare and nary a bipartisan initiative in sight. This is short-sighted and misguided. Which, of course, is what our politics and our Congress have become. And, so it goes.
Second, for its part, the Democratic progressive wing has begun the session balking at one of the first acts of an incoming Congress—adopting rules. Some of its members have said they will oppose a set of rules otherwise widely agreed to within the Democratic caucus. If they get enough votes, the proposed rules will fail or be pulled from the calendar, thereby giving an immediate black eye to the party and its House leadership. This progressive position is disappointingly reminiscent of the Republican Freedom Caucus and its continuing confrontation with Republican House leaders. It also likely foreshadows a number of future problems.
And, here is something for Democrats to add to their agenda: a rural initiative, including proposals related to reinvigorating smaller farms and ranches at the expense of the Big Ag and chemical lobbies; rolling back presidential tariff and trade powers to ease the pain being suffered by dairy and soybean farmers; and, adopting a full-bore rural internet initiative much like the rural electrification initiative of the New Deal. Measures such as these might gain bipartisan support and also peel some Trump voters away and reinvigorate Democratic parties in red states.