The 110th Congress opened for business January 4, 2007. This year’s event was different from previous ones in that for the first time since January 1995, there was a change in management…the Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress. It was unusual for another reason. For the first time in American history, a woman has been voted to be Speaker of the House. Yes, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat congresswoman from San Francisco was voted to take this high office this past Thursday. For that reason alone, it will not be business as usual but it should be interesting to witness congressional activities and proceedings.
When the Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in 1994, they had campaigned on a so-called “Contract with America” whereby they proposed to bring ten policy issues to a vote on the floor of the House in the first 100 days of the 104th Congress in 1995. They did so and most of the legislation became law some time later. The Democrats campaigned before the last election in November in a similar fashion in that they outlined six policy issues they would bring to a vote in the House within the first 100 hours. They also promised to end partisanship in Congress and an end to the corruption, scandals and influence-peddling lobbyists that so permeated the previous years under Republican leadership. This is to be the most ethical Congress in a long time. This all sounds good and positive and the results show that a majority of voters wanted that and voted the Democrats to be back in charge in the House and Senate.
The members of the 110th Congress were all sworn in on January 4 and Congress is now open for business. So far, new ethics standards for congressional members and some lobbying reform have been voted on and approved. The six policy changes among them raising the minimum wage, cutting student loan interest rates, an increase in federally funded stem-cell research and rolling back tax breaks for oil companies, will all be tackled henceforth, beginning next week.
One might wonder why the Democrats emphasized so strongly the 100 hours promise for passing these new laws. They apparently wanted to demonstrate that they meant business and they were doing this rather rapidly. But here comes the first surprise: While for most of us, 100 hours means a time period of four days and four hours, in this case, the 100 hours are measured in hours when Congress is in session. In other words, if they work four days a week and only about six hours per day, we are looking at about four weeks before the six new bills will have been voted on by the members in the House. Beginning on January 9, that means this particular promise will be achieved at the earliest during the first days in February. Not until then will these bills be sent to the Senate for deliberating and voting.
The second interesting change from earlier promises is the fact that when it comes to bi-partisanship, the Republicans in the House will Not be allowed to submit amendments on these six proposals by the Democrats nor will there be any reviews, hearings, debates or approvals by committees. In other words, bi-partisanship will start at the earliest some time in February. While this does not sit well with the 202 Republicans in the House, there is nothing they can do about it. They lost the majority in the House and have to accept the new rules. But this will not go unnoticed in the Senate where there are 49 Republicans and since it takes 60 votes for cloture (a procedure to end debate of laws before it is voted on), it should not be ruled out that the Senate Republicans will introduce some amendments to these six new laws before a vote in the Senate takes place. Given that, if there are differences between the House bills and the Senate versions of the same bills, they have to be reconciled in conference between the two chambers and voted on again before the bills go to the President for his signature. In other words, it might be a while before these six election promises become law.
As we stated above, it will be interesting to observe the activities in Congress this year and follow how events will unfold. There are of course much larger issues looming this year, the biggest one being the War in Iraq and the War on Terror in general. We can only hope that members of both parties can keep the interest of the country first and foremost in mind in their activities and decision-making. This should not be a time for getting even for things done to them in the past nor should Congress at any time forget their sworn obligations to America.
In fact, the Democrats have a great opportunity to show the country that they mean what they say and can therefore be trusted. Since they so greatly emphasized bi-partisanship for the next two years, it will be of great interest to see them deliver on their promise and keep their pledge. We wish that they will show us that there can be cooperation in Congress and with the President by putting personal agendas, objectives and partisanship aside and do what is best for this country! Let Common Sense guide you whenever possible, it would be so refreshing to witness and so beneficial for America.
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