As one who believes we are more effectively governed when the legislative and the executive branches are not controlled by one party, I am somewhat optimistic for the path to be traveled after Tuesday. And, if the debacle experienced in the past two years of overwhelming one-party rule is any harbinger, wisdom is on my side.
The 111th Congress convened in January 2009 with a Democratic Party majority of 75 seats in the House of Representatives (256 out of 435) and a 59-41 majority in the Senate (57 Democrats and 2 independents in their caucus). For much of the ensuing two years, this majority alternately ignored and disparaged the minority party, relegating Republicans to the "fall guys" for failed and slow legislative processes.
Naming the GOP as the "Party of No," the Democrats had the effrontery to compare the Republicans in the 111th Congress with President Truman's "Do Nothing" 80th Congress, conveniently forgetting that those Republicans held majority status in both houses. That a political party, regardless of affiliation, with a 70-plus majority in the House and a near-filibuster-proof majority in the Senate stoops to cast blame on the junior partner is priceless in its chutzpah.
Employing the blame game in conjunction with exercising political muscle is the essence of politics — what good is power if it cannot be wielded to one's advantage? But for the Democrats, from the president through the leadership of both houses in Congress, to equate bipartisanship with rubber-stamping of their programs without reading or debating the bills is not how the game is played. If that is the procedure envisioned by our founders, why the necessity for the legislature to vote?
In November the electorate responded in a vernacular impossible to misunderstand. Loudly and clearly, it rejected the majority party's ham-handed, big-spending, over-regulating, government-knows-best posture in favor of a Republican-controlled House and a weaker Democratic majority in the Senate. The beginnings of a grudging but active sense of cooperation came into being during the just-ended lame-duck session.
The Republican minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, forced the administration's hand by threatening to halt all legislation until the funding of the government and the extension of the tax cuts were settled. The failure of the majority party to pass a budget or any of the 12 appropriations bills (by Oct. 1, as required by law) encouraged the majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, to offer a 2,000-page, $1.2 trillion, pork- and earmark-laden omnibus bill to fund next year's government.
In a stroke of good fortune for those who actually pay taxes, that larded abomination was pronounced dead on arrival by Republicans as well as the Senate Democrats on tap for re-election in 2012. Obviously, some of our elected officials understood the voters' anger over the passage of unpopular legislation and the spending of funds we don't have.
The extension across the board of the Bush tax cuts was the set piece in the battle of economic realities. Despite a huge majority of economists decrying tax increases as an impending disaster during a major recession, the Pelosi Democrats clung to the "punish the rich" strategy, hoping to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. Now, I have never been a mathematical whiz, but I don't recall $250,000 incomes equating to millions, let alone billions.
The ensuing stalemate forced the first serious bipartisan cooperation between the administration and Republicans as McConnell and President Barack Obama hammered out a compromise. In arriving at agreement, both bargained in good faith, the president accepting a two-year extension of the tax cuts and Republicans supporting a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.
The rest is history — these two compromises were joined in this lame-duck session by other crossovers to include repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty and passage of the Food Safety Act. The DREAM Act, a citizenship path for children of illegal immigrants, did not pass Senate muster.
That a hurried and harried compromise between the president and the minority took bipartisanship a baby step forward means there is hope for the 112th Congress. Looking ahead, with a GOP majority in the House and a thin Democratic one in the Senate, the Pelosi-Reid "my way or the highway" attitude hits a roadblock from day one. There is evidence that the president and Congress will resume marching to the people's drum.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.