The D’s will have to make a choice between doing serious oversight of the executive branch and pushing a strong leadership/change agenda. In this I agree with what David Wessel of the WSJ told NPR this morning. The D’s can spend 80% of their time doing one of those but not both. … Meanwhile, some inside Congress will realize that their real need is to try to get some important things done in advance of the 2008 election.
My assumption at this point is that we’ll have a Senate that’s tied, maybe with a D majority, maybe not, and that the House will have a 10 seat D majority. If that pans out, the House will be able to pass strong legislation in the fields Vranes highlights: climate change, fuel economy, an OTA, and a renewed Endangered Species Act. However strong a bill might pass the House, Senate passage will require a more moderate approach.
If the plan is not just to pass a serious agenda, but actually get it into effect, the results will have to be even more moderate to get the White House on board, or to muster veto-proof majorities.
That means that the House can fight hard to pass a good climate change bill, muscle Detroit and Houston out of the way of good policy, and either see it vetoed or butchered in the Senate. Or they can pass an inadequate bill now, hoping to get something better later. But once a bill has passed, the political force behind incremental change will have expired.
My feeling is that oversight is the most critical deficit. There are important bills that can be passed with White House support and without. Good oversight can break down resistance to legislation that might not have been able to get through the Senate or White House.
This is my concern about the agenda Nancy Pelosi has set out for the first 100 hours. The lobbying reform bill will move just fine, as will allowing HHS to negotiate drug prices for the Medicare prescription drug plan. The minimum wage deserves to be passed, and I expect it’ll make it through the House and Senate. But I don’t think the White House will sign off on it, unless it’s attached to some other bill, and I doubt the Senate would let a minimum wage hike get connected to anything.
That problem becomes even more obvious when we come to the 9/11 commission’s recommendations. Those haven’t languished for years just because of Congressional inaction, they’ve languished because the White House and other executive branch agencies had no particular interest in implementing those changes. Whatever this Congress passes, it will face fierce administrative battles to actually see changes implemented.
Maybe that’s figured into the 80/20 split above, but I suspect that either agenda will quickly turn into an oversight battle. Until our national house is back in order, I’d say that should be the House’s agenda.