Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2002 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
John H. Fund
The kill-everything senate
In 1948, nearly everyone thought Harry
Truman was going to lose the presidency.
The New York Times called Thomas
Dewey's election "a foregone conclusion."
Truman didn't listen. He embarked on a
whistle-stop tour of the country, deploring
the Republican "do-nothing Congress." His
persistence paid off. Voters not only gave
him a second term but handed Democrats
control of Congress. President Bush would
be wise to take a page out of Truman's
political playbook and start campaigning
against Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle's "kill-everything Senate." Mr.
Daschle and a few of his chairmen are
practicing monkey-wrench legislating to
satisfy the liberal groups they need to gin
up the fall election in hopes of keeping (or
increasing) their one-vote Senate majority.
Policy is always tied up in politics, but the
extremes of Daschle obstructionism are
hurting the country.
Take the Department of Homeland Security
that President Bush has proposed to
consolidate the government's antiterrorism
activities. Senate Democrats have held up
approval because public-sector employee
unions don't like giving the president flexibility to manage the new department's work
force. Last week, Sen. John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, was in a meeting that was on
the verge of reaching a compromise with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, when the
phone rang. It was Mr. Daschle's office on the line saying the proposed deal was
Similar interference prevented Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Chris Dodd from
going forward with a compromise they'd worked out to provide businesses with
antiterrorism insurance in a post-Sept. 11 climate that has made it almost impossible for
that market to function. Trial lawyers oppose the bill.
The Daschle-run Senate is primarily responsible for this being the first year since 1974
that Congress will not have passed a budget. It's likely that only one of the 13 annual
appropriation bills, the one for defense, will have passed before Congress adjourns next
week to go home and campaign. That will force Congress to pass continuing resolutions
to fund government departments at last year's levels--a tactic that budget expert Stan
Collender says will misallocate billions of dollars and play havoc with agency planning.
Similar obstructionism is at work across the entire Senate agenda. There is no sign that
reauthorization of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, generally considered an outstanding
success, will pass. The energy bill has been so weighted down with subsidies as to be
useless to energy production. Senate Democrats are blocking a House bill that would
allow firms that manage 401(k) and other pension funds to offer participants advice on
how to invest.
But it's on judges that the monkey-wrench Senate attitude is most obvious. Nearly 40 of
President Bush's nominees to the bench haven't gotten a hearing, including several who
were nominated 17 months ago. Democrats would rather have the vacancies, even
though the Judicial Conference of the United States has declared many of them "judicial
emergencies." This week, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy went back on
his commitment to the retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond that he would bring up the
nomination of a former Thurmond aide nominated to a federal circuit court.
Last month, the Leahy committee voted not to send to the Senate floor the nomination
of Priscilla Owen to a federal appeals court precisely because she would have won
confirmation by the full Senate. Ms. Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice, was "borked"
by feminist and trial lawyer groups. "We will confirm qualified judges. Don't send us
unqualified judges," Mr. Daschle had warned. Never mind that Justice Owen had a "highly
qualified" rating by the distinctly nonconservative American Bar Association.
But the actual facts count for little in a Senate run according to Mr. Daschle. Qualified
judges aren't, because he says so. Antiterrorism insurance and a Department of
Homeland Security languish. This is political calculation and selfishness run amok.
If President Bush wants to be able to carry out any sort of agenda in the last two years
of his term, he will have to overcome Mr. Daschle's obstructionism. If he says nothing
about it and the Democrats keep their majority next month, the blame will fall to the
president for the Senate's legislative failures. As Harry Truman well understood the buck
stops in the Oval Office.
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©2001, John H. Fund