September 3, 2011
Three Congresses: A Study in WorldviewsBy Jerry Shenk
The 112th Congress is on summer hiatus. It's a good time to reflect on the recent activities of the body and contrast them with prior Congresses, most notably those of the House.
Comparing the priorities of Republican Speaker Boehner with those of his predecessor, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is an interesting exercise -- not just to catalog their considerable differences, but also as an illustration of the divergence in the worldviews of the two major parties in Washington.
Both Pelosi and Boehner were elected speaker when a president of the opposition party occupied the White House. In the 110th Congress, Pelosi had the advantage of a Democratic majority in the Senate. Boehner faces a Democratic Senate in the 112th. The intervening 111th was the first Congress in years to have Democrats in control of both houses and the White House
The ascendancy of both speakers was aided by voter reactions to the unpopularity, policies, weaknesses, failures, or overreach of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama.
In contrasting the business pursued by the Nancy Pelosi-led Democratic House beginning in January 2007 with the priorities of Republican House Speaker John Boehner's 112th Congress beginning in January 2011, one is struck by the smallness of the former.
In 2007, after electing Ms. Pelosi Speaker and passing House Rules, Democrats immediately passed The Fair Minimum Wage Act. The Act, which raised the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, was among the first initiatives which contributed to joblessness in America, especially among teens and other first-time, inexperienced job-seekers. Labor unions urged the increase.
The House then moved to pass a bill authorizing federal expenditures for embryonic stem cell research, a priority of the abortion industry, and another which contributed to the higher education bubble in the U.S. by increasing "aid," and the resulting indebtedness, to college students. College tuition has increased at rates substantially greater than inflation. Outstanding student loans today cumulatively exceed national credit card debt, while fifteen million indebted graduates are jobless or underemployed. Democratic enablers in the academy benefit from such policies.
On the second day, Democrats passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, thereby making practical energy less accessible and more expensive while driving up food prices. The bill rewarded major campaign contributors from the renewable energy lobby whose products cannot compete in free markets.
For days following House organization, Pelosi's agenda mostly consisted of yadda, yadda, honoring jocks and "spirit," and "expressing the sense of the House" nonsense.
Then, in March 2007, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA was a shameful payoff to the Democrats' union paymasters. Secret ballots are America's gold standard for elections. EFCA would actually threaten free choice by eliminating secret ballots for union certification elections. It would substitute "card check," allowing union goons to "persuade" 51% of employees to publicly sign a card in favor of union representation, and reduce voting options to a choice between "Yes" and "Yes, sir!"
On March 28, 2007, the Pelosi House approved a budget resolution assuming large deficits through 2012. The resolution was a foundation and launching point for the spending excesses of the 111th Congress under President Obama.
The priority of the Pelosi-led House was to reward campaign contributors and special interests which support Democrats at the expense of taxpayers and American workers.
With that history, it's not surprising that in 2009, only days after a Democratic president was installed in the White House, the Pelosi House and Reid Senate composing the 111th Congress immediately passed, unread and not debated, a trillion-dollar-plus stimulus bill (with interest) that directly rewarded campaign contributors and Democratic special interests, while dispensing borrowed and newly printed money to paper over the failures of progressive governance in states and municipalities carried by Obama.
By contrast, in 2011, after electing Speaker John Boehner and adopting the rules, the House was opened with a bipartisan reading of the United States Constitution, possibly the only time the noble document has been heard on the floor in its entirety.
Then the House immediately voted to reduce its own costs by passing "the amount authorized for salaries and expenses of Member, committee, and leadership offices in 2011 and 2012," and to stop congressional overprinting, another cost-cutting measure.
All of the Boehner House initiatives were non-starters in the Democrat-controlled Senate. That fact, combined with the priorities of the first Pelosi speakership, amply illustrates the difference in the worldviews of majorities of Democrats and Republicans in Washington today: special interests vs. the people; hack-ocracy vs. democracy.
Though overdue from Republicans, Speaker Boehner set a tone in the House that culminated in the recent debt-ceiling deal. The imperfect agreement only flattens the trajectory of America's unsustainable spending, but the president and his party agreed to forgo tax increases and mandate spending reductions, however marginally or insincerely. It's a start.
One final note on the 112th Congress: most members returned to their districts, but Congress did not take a summer recess. Five Republican freshman members stayed in Washington through August to man the House. Because the members conducted business, opening and closing the body, the House -- and Congress -- didn't officially recess. These members' sacrifice prevented another round of Soviet-style recess appointments of nominees President Obama cannot get approved in the Senate.
Americans should applaud the prudence and dedication of the Republican frosh and reward them with the Senate and White House in 2012.
Jerry Shenk is co-editor of the Rebuilding America, Federalist Papers 2 website©: www.federalistpapers2.org.
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