Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The New Congress––Sniping or Civility?

Jerry Ford's funeral took place in our capital city today. I will admit to always being a fan.

He gets an unfair rap for not doing a lot during his administration. But just getting our country back on track in the wake of Watergate was a major accomplishment in itself. Let's also not forget that he was the President who signed ERISA into law--something that was a major bipartisan accomplishment.

More than anything he was the model of civility––a model those giving the eulogies (in both parties) tell us we all ought to follow. But "Air Force One" was still on the taxi way at Andrews when the partisan sniping in the new Congress was already at a high pitch.

Much attention is being given to the new House Democrat leaders and their agenda for the "first 100 hours" they are in session (which is really scheduled to take place over a two week period).

That agenda includes a promise to pass legislation directing the federal government to negotiate pharmaceutical prices for the new Part D drug benefit. It also includes important ethics reforms, a higher minimum wage, expanding stem cell research, cutting the student loan interest rate, and other issues.

The effort to get the feds to negotiate Part D drug prices isn't about to go anywhere––the Senate will be reluctant to go along and Bush would veto it anyway.

Most notable is the partisan sniping already going on. Republicans claim they are being frozen out of the House Democrat legislative agenda for the first "100 hours" and Democrats counter the Republicans just want to throw a wrench in things.

The Republicans ought to stop sniping at the Democrats who made a promise regarding that "first 100 hours." How could they not put these items to the vote they promised voters in November anymore than Republicans would have been expected to put the "Contract With America" aside in 1995?

But Democrats need to realize that the kind of one-sided government we had under the House Republicans has to end. The 2003 Medicare Act (and Part D) was strong-armed through the House in the middle of the night with no input from Democrats. Such an enormous addition to entitlements deserved a great deal more thought and care.

The partisanship in Washington, and attendant lack of civility, won't end unless the House Democrats take the first step toward treating their House Republican colleagues with the kind of respect we saw these last few years among many Republican and Democrat Senators. On the health care issue, the example to follow is in the Senate Finance Committee where outgoing Republican Chair Chuck Grassley always treated the new incoming Chair Max Baucus with nothing but the greatest respect. Because of it, we can expect Grassley to get that same respect from his "friend" now that he is the "ranking member."

Constructive progress on health care is possible. But only if Democrats in the House are willing to "turn the other cheek" after the humiliation they suffered at the hands of House Republican leaders in recent years and use the Grassley/Baucus example as their template.

2006 Congressional Health Care Agenda
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