October 30, 2008


Democrats Vie to Shape an Obama Legislative Agenda: Advisers, House Caucuses Jockey for Input Should Senator Win the Presidency; Tensions Over How Fast to Move on Big Issues (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 10/30/08, Wall Street Journal)

Sen. Obama's economic brain trust dialed in two weeks ago to a conference call with the candidate to discuss how the Wall Street bailout was working when a split emerged over how hard the government should lean on the banks. Some advisers said it would be politically and economically disastrous if the billions of taxpayer dollars injected into ailing financial institutions just sat in vaults. Robert Rubin, who served as President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary between stints on Wall Street, pushed back. Leaving the money in the banks would help stabilize them and prevent further turmoil in the credit markets, even if the money wasn't loaned out, the Citigroup Inc. executive said.

On Capitol Hill, three main factions are emerging with very different advice.

The first group, led by "old bull" liberals, wants to move fast on big-ticket issues such as universal health care and weaning the nation off Middle Eastern oil and on regulatory and labor issues, such as allowing unions to organize by getting would-be members to sign cards backing collective bargaining instead of submitting to secret ballots. [...]

A second faction of more-conservative Democrats is focusing on fiscal discipline. With this fiscal year's deficit potentially approaching $1 trillion, these Democrats say the money for Sen. Obama's ambitious agenda simply isn't there. One of the first acts of the next Congress should be approving a bipartisan commission to tackle the deficit and the growth of entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, argue the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who say they will have the numbers to make the demands. [...]

The third group of Democrats could be labeled the middle-ground pragmatists. They embrace the activist agenda but are wary about going too far too fast. This camp, which includes the party's top congressional leadership, argues that Sen. Obama should move quickly on a few items with proven bipartisan support -- an economic-stimulus package, an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program funded with a tobacco-tax increase, and funding for federal stem-cell research. They would then regroup and build bipartisan support for the new president's bigger-ticket items -- health care, energy, education and regulatory changes.

...but polls show that stem cell research isn't a leading issue for most people and only a minority support lifting the Bush restrictions on embryo stem cells. But these sorts of pro-Death measures are probably the one thing they could move on quickly, so folks like Doug Kmiec would have done little more than help feed the maw.

The biggest problem Democrats would face is that their nominee has, quite wisely, run on nothing, so the different chambers of Congress and the various factions within the Party would be unconstrained by any mandate or agenda. Consider the contrast to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who both came to office with discrete sets of action items that left Congress with no question about what it was expected to deliver.

Of course, John McCain has run like a legislator too -- with a couple of areas in which he'd like to pass new laws, but no concise and coherent outline of his minimal conditions for such bills -- so no matter who wins on Tuesday power is going to shift from the White House to the Hill and the American people aren't exactly big fans of the legislative process these days. Nor does the modern press do even an adequate, nevermind competent, job covering law-making. If nothing else, Congress is ill-suited to the 24-hour news cycle. For 24 of the last 28 years we've had bigger than life figures running Washington -- both because of their own personalities and because of the way their opponents demonize them -- but the next four years are, almost inevitably, going to be like George H. W. Bush's term, where the presidency itself seemed to shrink.

Dems get ready to rule (Michael Sandler, 10/28/08, The Hill)

[D]emocrats could quickly push forward with legislation allowing labor unions to organize without secret-ballot elections and a bill expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Other possibilities include the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would overturn a Supreme Court decision restricting equal pay lawsuits; a measure that would narrow the role of a “supervisor” for collective bargaining purposes; and a mandate for paid sick leave for companies with 15 or more employees who work at least 30 hours a week — all left over from the last Congress.

“I think they want to strike while the iron’s hot and grab everything they can,” said Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. [...]

Having the numbers to move legislation on a partisan basis carries risk. Democrats and Obama, if elected, would shoulder the blame for anything that passes. That reality could prompt leadership to postpone visceral debates on issues with greater political consequences, such as dealing with illegal immigrants.

If that's everything they can grab, the activists are going to be seething.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2008 8:31 AM
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