A year plagued by war, recession, bioterror attacks and political bickering ended with a considerable amount of unfinished business in the nations capitol by design. Memories of bipartisan pledges faded as Congress abandoned unity and cooperation with not even a wink and a nod. With eyes refocused on Novembers midterm elections, which hold the leadership fate in both houses of Congress, Senate leadership concluded the first legislative session of the 107th Congress by blocking or simply denying votes on key pieces of legislation as well as vital judicial and executive branch confirmations.
If election-year history repeats itself as reliably as usual, this year will result in an even less productive legislative session. The now slim Democrat Senate majority and House minority appear poised to continue obstructing the Presidents agenda at the countrys expense.
Priorities including a comprehensive national energy plan were successfully blocked by Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) through a series of procedural motions and stall tactics. The energy initiative now needs a supermajority of 60 votes even to be considered, instead of the simple majority, which it currently has, to pass. Like the energy bill, trade promotion authority, formerly known as "fast-track," passed in the House and has majority support in the Senate. It, too, has been denied an up-or-down vote.
An economic stimulus package that would increase consumer spending power and provide incentives to reduce job cuts was also killed in the final days of the 2001 session. Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) feel it more advantageous to spin class-warfare rhetoric behind alternative legislation that increases entitlement spending and offers virtually no new tax cuts. Why not? After all, its the economy, stupid.
Judicial and executive branch confirmations by the Senate in 2001 moved at a snails pace, with liberal-labeled "controversial" nominees being refused a committee hearing or, if they got a hearing, a vote on the Senate floor.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is working at only 50 percent of its capacity, yet the Presidents seven nominees to that court have yet to receive a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. Two of them have been waiting since May.
The Presidents nominee to the top legal post at the Department of Labor, Eugene Scalia, is also being denied a vote on the Senate floor, despite impeccable credentials, a favorable hearing and majority support. Thats payback, many believe, for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalias decision in Bush v. Gore. Eugene Scalias predicament is a perfect example of the partisan tactics employed by Senate Democrats to block confirmations, not of "controversial," but consequential nominees. As with other issues in Daschles Senate, Scalias confirmation will need a supermajority to get a vote, unless the President decides to clear leather with a recess appointment.
Propped up by the The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have set new records for number of editorials, "reformers" will continue the quest for House passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill as unconstitutional as it is cynical. As the elections draw near, partisan swords will again be wielded to acquire the remaining few signatures needed on the House discharge petition to force a vote. Look for missing political fingers of those who resist.
When Congress returns on January 23, the political posturing is likely to require more microphones than the networks have. Key initiatives that could bolster our nations security and economy will become even more difficult to get past the partisan demagoguery. One issue has escaped the Congressional pay raise already snuck through in a fleeting pre-recess reversion to bipartisanship.
How do you spell obstruction? We, along with a majority of the American people, have had to learn a new way: D-A-S-C-H-L-E.
January 4, 2002