Democrats To Start Without GOP Input
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
As they prepare to take control of Congress this week and face up to campaign pledges to restore bipartisanship and openness, Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking.
House Democrats intend to pass a raft of popular measures as part of their well-publicized plan for the first 100 hours. They include tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage, allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on student loans.
But instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.
Nancy Pelosi, the Californian who will become House speaker, and Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who will become majority leader, finalized the strategy over the holiday recess in a flurry of conference calls and meetings with other party leaders. A few Democrats, worried that the party would be criticized for reneging on an important pledge, argued unsuccessfully that they should grant the Republicans greater latitude when the Congress convenes on Thursday.
The episode illustrates the dilemma facing the new party in power. The Democrats must demonstrate that they can break legislative gridlock and govern after 12 years in the minority, while honoring their pledge to make the 110th Congress a civil era in which Democrats and Republicans work together to solve the nation's problems. Yet in attempting to pass laws key to their prospects for winning reelection and expanding their majority, the Democrats may have to resort to some of the same tough tactics Republicans used the past several years.
Democratic leaders say they are torn between giving Republicans a say in legislation and shutting them out to prevent them from derailing Democratic bills.
"There is a going to be a tension there," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "My sense is there's going to be a testing period to gauge to what extent the Republicans want to join us in a constructive effort or whether they intend to be disruptive. It's going to be a work in progress."
House Republicans have begun to complain that Democrats are backing away from their promise to work cooperatively. They are working on their own strategy for the first 100 hours, and part of it is built on the idea that they might be able to break the Democrats' slender majority by wooing away some conservative Democrats.
Democrats intend to introduce their first bills within hours of taking the oath of office on Thursday. The first legislation will focus on the behavior of lawmakers, banning travel on corporate jets and gifts from lobbyists and requiring lawmakers to attach their names to special spending directives and to certify that such earmarks would not financially benefit the lawmaker or the lawmaker's spouse. That bill is aimed at bringing legislative transparency that Democrats said was lacking under Republican rule.
Democratic leaders said they are not going to allow Republican input into the ethics package and other early legislation, because several of the bills have already been debated and dissected, including the proposal to raise the minimum wage, which passed the House Appropriations Committee in the 109th Congress, said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi.
"We've talked about these things for more than a year," he said. "The members and the public know what we're voting on. So in the first 100 hours, we're going to pass these bills."
But because the details of the Democratic proposals have not been released, some language could be new. Daly said Democrats are still committed to sharing power with the minority down the line. "The test is not the first 100 hours," he said. "The test is the first six months or the first year. We will do what we promised to do."