Why Congress Matters

In the spirit of those who have put forward their comprehensive cases against Barack Obama and the overwhelming Democratic dominance of the federal government, here’s a case for the importance of Congressional races for the years ahead.

A key point: an Obama administration with 60 D votes in the Senate and 280 D votes in the House will be rather different from an Obama administration with 53 Democrats in the Senate and 235 Democrats in the House.  Not only will Democrats at or near 60 votes be able to crush Republican resistance on a lot of issues in the Senate; Speaker Pelosi with an expanded majority will have an easier time getting more extreme legislation through.  Even if all the Democrat gains in the House are Blue Dogs, an expanded majority will give her more flexibility.  Right now, if Pelosi wants to go forward on a “progressive” issue, she’ll need most, if not all, of the Blue Dogs; with, say, 280 votes, she’ll only need to convince a (smaller) portion of the Blue Dogs.

If Obama wins, a Senate in which the GOP can sustain a filibuster on a lot of issues and a House with relatively close numbers of Democrats and Republicans could allow the GOP to stymie many of the far-reaching, hard-to-repeal Democratic extensions of power (and to cooperate with D’s on worthwhile policies) while also providing the party with an opportunity to unify under a new consensus.  2010 could then be a chance to pick up some seats and build momentum for a presidential win in 2012 and a regaining of Congress.  (Or at least that’s one way it could work out.)

If, on the other hand, Obama wins and the Democrats sweep Congress with overwhelming majorities, Democrats could put in place a radical extension of state power and state coercion.  They could steamroll the opposition and dominate the public narrative.  The aim seems likely to be a radical extension and, most likely, centralization of state power (accomplished, in part, by the creation of an environment in which Democratic policies are uncritically put into place).

Even if the Republicans regain power in 2012 or 2016 or whenever, they may be hard-pressed to roll back some of these powers that a radical Democratic Congress could grant the federal government.  Consider how damaging aspects of the Great Society’s welfare program were for so long and how widely unpopular they were for so long and how inefficient they were for so long.  It still took about 30 years to reform welfare.

A President McCain with an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress will often be overridden.   If Bush had faced 60+ Democrats in the Senate in 2007-2008, he would have been overridden on a whole host of issues (e.g. the surge would have been ended).  McCain would also have an incentive to play along with the left on issues (such as immigration) about which the right is most hostile to him.  McCain will still be likely to frustrate the right on a great many issues, but expanded Democratic majorities would no doubt lead to more radical domestic legislation under a McCain presidency.

Aside from the electoral and broad issues, here are some policy details:

Oversight: You thought the Democrats did a great job advocating for oversight for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  The Democratic leadership by and large still refuses to acknowledge the existence of problems with Freddie and Fannie (Pelosi is reported to have promised some in leadership that she won’t permit any “witch-hunt” inquiries into both organizations’ problems).  Barney Frank’s still trying to distract from these economic issues by calling critics of old Freddie and Fannie regulations racists.  With increased federal powers in the wake of the financial crisis, Democrats will have even more to exercise their (lack of) oversight over.  As the power of the federal government expands (over the short term at least), is it really in the interests of the American people to give complete power to a party that seems to have failed so much in regulating itself?  Think of the mortgage deals for Congressional regulators, tax issues for the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the campaign coffers stuffed with funds from organizations (such as Fannie and Freddie) that these Democrats were supposed to be overseeing, etc.  Is this crew to be trusted with unchallenged power of oversight and regulation over the next two or more years?  If we want to deal with the current crisis, we’re going to need flexibility and fairness and a real interest in getting at the facts—not people interested in demagoguing issues only to extend their own political power.

Fairness Doctrine:  Yeah, Congressional Democratic leadership wants it.  Nancy Pelosi’s spoken in favor of it, as has Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and House Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY).  They view message control as one of the key means for them to keep their holds on power, and increased federal “oversight” of all political commentary on the airwaves will be a first step for limiting the flow of information.  Obama’s lawyers have been implicitly threatening the FCC licenses of those TV stations that dare to run ads critical of Hope and Change.  Expect more actions like that, especially if Obama shifts media regulations so that stations need to have their licenses renewed every two years and makes other regulatory changes.  Obama’s said that he isn’t necessarily in favor of the “Fairness Doctrine,” but a left-dominated legislature could pass it anyways.  Who knows what Obama-style “truth squads” could do in an environment controlled by Democrats…

Energy and Cap-and-Trade: This year’s failed carbon cap-and-trade scheme was a bonanza for special interests and political favorites.  It seemed more designed to increase Congressional and federal power than to help the environment.  Under a President Obama and an overwhelmingly left Congress, we could see a cap-and-trade policy that goes all the way Chicago: stuffed with “free” carbon credits and other goodies for political allies in different industries (and indirectly taxing opponents).  More broadly, we could be seeing some very unhelpful energy policy coming out of an far-left Congress.  Substantial new domestic drilling?  Not too likely (the Democrat Congress has budged a little on this issue now, during the election season).  New nuclear power (which is actually proven to work)?  Hardly.  Subsidies for certain (politically favored) solar and wind etc. technology companies?  That’s more like it.  The Republican party needs to expand its mainstream thinking on energy (“Drill baby drill” isn’t going to power the USA), though, and alternative energy forms do need substantially more support, too.

Spending: Left officials and opinion-makers have already given up any pretense of trying to balance the budget.  So-called “progressive” writers have started the drumbeat that now it’s the Democrats’ turn to spend wildly.  Obama has also recently renounced following PAYGO rules.  Both parties most likely will support deficit-spending in the upcoming years, but, even if we are all Keynsians now (and believe in deficit-spending as a way of getting out of a recession), what kind of programs should we support, and by how much should we expand federal obligations in the long term?  Obama’s new healthcare plan will likely cost more money as he lays the groundwork for an expansive set of perpetual entitlements.  No matter what he’s said for a short-term policy, it seems as though Obama’s working toward a Canada-style single-payer healthcare system (he’s admitted as much).  While a number on the right (or pretending to be on the right) have lambasted the Bush administration for increasing spending, such entitlement measures will radically expand the government’s bills for a long time (the Bush administration’s 2003 Medicare reform bill did more to add to federal financial obligations over the next ten years than earmarking).  All this spending will eventually have to be paid for by higher taxes (Barney Frank will admit that), and the Democrats are already thinking of new kinds of taxes to place upon the American people as a whole (such as this plan being considered that would end the tax incentives for 401(k) investing and mandate that every worker place 5% of his or her pay in some investment program administered by the government).

Immigration: The trickle of enforcement we’ve had over the past year or so is very likely to dry up under an Obama administration.  Obama’s already attacking immigration enforcement officials as “terror[izing] local communities.” Look for a continued defense of our anti-skills immigration system and, through mass legalizations, a perpetuation of a system that encourages the exploitation of people and the driving down of wages.  Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) says that “amnesty” is the only solution to our current immigration problems, and the Democratic leadership in the House sounds like it will go along with that idea.  The Senate helped stop last year’s mass legalization; the filibuster was a crucial tool in that fight.  Last year’s filibuster was a bipartisan affair.  Under President Obama, will immigration moderates like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) maintain a filibuster or give in (against their own better judgments) in order to prove their worth to him?  A President McCain would also love to sign a mass legalization; a smaller Democratic majority might make his achievement of that goal a little harder.

Education:  Obama wants to increase the federal government’s power in education, as does much of the hard left as a whole (along with some on the right).  Look for more invasive federal mandates, and not only of the curricular kind.  Part of Obama’s educational plan entails requiring students from middle school onward to engage in 50 hours of “community service” a year.  We could see more of these mandatory service initiatives under an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.  (Remember, the push to bring back the draft has been led by Democrats in Congress, such as Rep. Charlie Rangel.  Many supporters of mandatory “service” can be found on the left; Joe Klein, who’s now savaging the McCain campaign, has advocated for a universal draft.  Obama himself is now talking about registering women for the draft and made some other interesting comments about a universal draft.  Sen. Chris Dodd also pushed for mandatory national service on the campaign trail.)

Gun Rights: Some of this field may be in the hands of the Supreme Court (and the hands of the man who picks the Supreme Court), but Congress still has plenty of room to infringe upon your Second Amendment rights.  There may be a revival of the “assault weapons” ban, or perhaps some measures similar to ones Obama proposed in 1999, which would make owning a gun an extremely legally risky proposition (for example, potentially charging a gun-owner with a felony if someone else steals her gun and injures another person with it).

The Courts: This point is involved in a few other issues.  Democrats were able to keep many of Bush’s nominees to various lower federal courts off the bench through the use of the filibuster.  Republicans don’t have the same history of filibustering judges, but they won’t even have the option of the filibuster if they fall below 40 votes.  Expanded Democratic majorities in the Senate could allow even further left judges to take power.  (Not that I’m advocating the specific filibuster of certain judicial nominees, but it’s always nice to have an option, even if you don’t take it.  Senate Democrats could also go “nuclear,” as Republicans considered doing in 2005, and try to end the ability to filibuster judicial nominees.)

There are a lot more issues—from abortion to the security of our voting system—where a legislature overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats could lead to unfortunate results.   Barring some bizarre earthquake in the national scene within the next week and a half, Republicans can’t take back the Senate.  They most likely won’t retake the House.  But they can, with enough numbers, be an effective minority—not only for their own interests but for the interests of the American people.  And if, somehow, they do gain a majority in either chamber, they could be an effective majority, too.

No matter the result of the presidential race, Congress matters.  The Democrat-controlled Congress is looking at a 12% approval rating right now.  The American people don’t need to double-down on a failed team.  There is another way.  Don’t give up hope.  Don’t give up persistence.  Don’t give up responsibility.  Now is not the time for walking away in disgust but for working with what we have and trying to make it better.  Now, we can plan and build for the future.


5 Responses to “Why Congress Matters”

  1. Fausta’s Blog » Blog Archive » Would Obama, Dems Kill 401(k) Plans? Says:

    […] Pravitt, writing on Why Congress Matters, posts on the question of […]

  2. Katy Says:

    Good God. Anyone have a valium? Oh and while your looking, find my counrty for me. I seem to have lost it.

  3. locomotivebreath1901 Says:


    Those informed citizens who understand our Constitution and our triune republican system of government will appreciate your post, and the horrors of an Obama admin married to a democrat super majority congress.

    To those who swoon and worship at the feet of THE ONE, these are devilish details. All those myrmidons seek is the miracles that this one man claims to provide.

    Gub’mint & political discourse is merely an obstacle.

    God save the Republic.

  4. extract audio from video Says:

    It is remarkable, this very valuable opinion

  5. Julius Truocchio Says:

    So an official (Charles Rangel) has apparently being using his importance for his own profit. And we ought to be suprised about this. people say that the oldest occupation is usually to do with certain bedroom antics but its really people in power acting corruptly.

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