Americans Do Want Congress to Stop the Escalation

There is a sense among the pundits and even many within the halls of Congress that while the American people are strongly opposed to the Iraq War and specifically to President Bush's proposal to increase the number of American troops in the conflict, voters would not welcome the type of actions required to stop the escalation -- either cutting off funds for new troops or passing legislation limiting the President's ability to widen the war. Not so, however, says new polling (or other polling in the recent and somewhat recent past, for that matter).

A new CBS News survey of American adults in the field Thursday through Sunday with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points finds that a majority of Americans want to see Congress use the power of the purse to block the so-called "surge" in troops, with a 45 percent plurality favoring cutting off funding for more troops and an additional 8 percent backing a complete freeze on spending. This 53 percent combined figure compares favorably to the just 44 percent who support Congress passing a non-binding resolution on Iraq, though it is significantly lower than the 68 percent who disapprove of the President's handling of Iraq, the 67 percent who believe the U.S. military can effectively stop violence between Iraqis and the 63 percent who oppose sending 20,000 more American troops into the country.

The numbers found by CBS jibe well with a Gallup poll of American adults in the field Friday through Sunday, which also had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. According to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, with strong majorities favoring a timetable for withdrawal of American troops (63 percent) and capping the number of American troops in Iraq (57 percent). In a question asked slightly differently than asked by CBS, however, Gallup finds less support -- just 40 percent -- for cutting of funds to send more troops to Iraq, but slightly more support -- 51 percent -- for a non-binding resolution condemning the increase in troops.

These numbers fairly clearly show that while there may unfortunately not be the stomach among those in Congress for taking the types of actions necessary to end the war in Iraq in a timely fashion there is such support among the American people. In other words, the American people are ahead of their representatives in Washington on the issue. And while Congress may in the future move forward with attempt to enact more binding legislation in the future, the fate of which seems poor given Senate Republicans' willingness to shill for their unpopular President and his unpopular Iraq policy, the American people are already ready for Congress to start taking real action on Iraq.

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House GOP Cries of "Foul" on Rules Fall on Deaf Ears

Having wholly failed at attempts to block or stall the Democrats' 100 Hours agenda in the House -- even, in fact, failing to maintain the semblance of unity within their own caucus in early House votes -- House Republicans have turned to decrying the tactics used by the new Democratic majority in the chamber to help pass their widely popular agenda in a prompt manner. The Hill's Jackie Kucinich has a good run down of the Republican complaints.

During the first month of the Democratic-controlled Congress, Republicans held numerous press conferences on Capitol Hill to vent their frustration over being locked out of the legislative process. Many accused Democrats of violating House rules to push their legislation through.

[...]

In order to get the GOP message out, [GOP Rep. John Campbell said], members must break down information to communicate clearly how the process impacts constituents and their pocketbooks.

[...]

[House Republican Conference spokesman Ed] Patru acknowledged that Republicans are likely to lose the inside-the-Beltway debate because of the heavy Democratic majority. But outside Washington, he said, Republicans have an advantage because of their ability translate the debate into understandable analogies.

To begin, it's clear that the Republicans have been extremely ineffective at making an issue about the House Democrats' use of the chamber's rules to speed their top legislative priorities to votes on the floor. The latest Gallup Poll, for instance, finds Congress' approval rating to be 37 percent, with 55 percent disapproving -- not great numbers, certainly, but higher than they have been in the poll in close to two years and up 16 points since late December. What's more, despite almost continuous attacks on Speaker Nancy Pelosi for being a "San Francisco liberal", her approval rating is sky high at around 50 percent, trumping both that of George W. Bush and that of Newt Gingrich at any point in his speakership.

But not only have these lines of attacks not hurt the Democrats whatsoever in the first month of the 110th Congress, both as a result of the popularity of the Democratic platform and the fact that process attacks are generally too abstract to matter to voters (at least this early in the game), they are extremely disengenuous -- and Republicans know it.

The House GOP has spent quite a bit of effort highlighting the fact that Democrats did not allow open rules during the debate over 100 Hours legislation, which could have allowed seemingly endless amendments that could have changed the essence of the Democratic bills. But what the Republicans fail to mention in these tirades is the fact that they allowed only one open rule -- only one -- on a non-appropriations bill during the 109th Congress. That's right. Of the 22 open rules allowed by the GOP majority in the House last Congress, which accounted for just 16 percent of all rules (meaning 84 percent of all rules were closed), just one, H.R. 255 (Federal Deposit Insurance Reform), was not an appropriations bill, which traditionally come to the floor with open rules.

Now the Democrats are already allowing their first open rule on legislation, just six weeks into their reign over the House. With the open rule agreed to today for H.R. 547 (Advanced Fuels Infrastructure Research and Development Act), the House Democrats have already matched the number of open rules on non-appropriations legislation that the Republicans allowed during the previous Congress. It will be pretty difficult for the GOP to argue with that.

In short, complaints about House rules aren't likely to help the Republicans swing the momentum away from the Democratic majority any time soon, not only because the Democrats' agenda is so popular and that voters don't tend to care about the internal rules of Congress, in general, but also because the Republican attacks on the Democrats' use of rules simply have no merity whatsoever.

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MyDD Interview with Harry Reid

On Friday afternoon I had the opportunity to speak with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his office in the Capitol. This is the second in a series of conversations I had with Democratic presidential candidates and party leaders for publication here on MyDD. Yesterday, I posted the audio and transcript of my talk with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer and tomorrow morning I will continue with the audio and transcript of my meeting with former Sen. John Edwards.

During the interview with Sen. Reid, which you can listen to in full through a stream or download as an .mp3 for use later at Odeo (some day I will figure out how to embed the audio a la YouTube), I was able to bring up a number of the questions that you suggested here in the comments of MyDD, as well as some submitted to me through email. Now, the transcript:

Jonathan Singer: Thanks for taking the time. Can you tell us a little bit about what it's going to take for someone to win the Nevada caucuses? It's kind of a new thing for us political watchers.

Harry Reid: Well it's a new thing for we Nevadans. It's a real challenge to make sure we organize well. I think it's so important to our country that we change the system. Iowa, a state with a nice population, but very little diversity. Wonderful people. They've done a good job with their caucuses. New Hampshire has no diversity and a very small population. It really seems unfair to me and most people, and that's why the DNC changed it - [that] those two states should determine who's President.

Why did they choose Nevada and South Carolina? They chose Nevada because of its diversity - 20 percent Hispanic, large African-American population, Asian-American population is 6-7 percent. That's big. We have 22 different tribal organizations. The state of Nevada has large union representation, 14 percent and going up rather than down, like a lot of other places in the country.

We have population centers. We have Las Vegas and Reno, two large centers, Las Vegas really big. We have all of the problems of any major metropolitan area. We have rural Nevada, which is representative certainly of rural America. Nevada is representative of the rest of the country.

And people who come there are going to have to be able to respond to Western questions. Water. In the East, we used to have too much. In the West, it's always not enough. We have problems in the West that are unique to the West. The military is different in the West than the East because it's spread out. For example, Las Vegas has the largest Air Force fighter training school in the world. Great ranges. Before you came here we had a map of all that. I wish I could have shown it to you. It's just huge.

Forty percent of the state of Nevada is restricted airspace, military. Eighty-seven percent of the state of Nevada is owned by the federal government. Only 13 percent is privately owned. So we have a lot of federal land issues in Nevada that you don't have in any other place, except you got some in Utah, Montana. But ours is exaggerated compared to them.

People are going to have to be aware of all of these Nevada issues, not the least of which is Yucca Mountain, storage of nuclear waste.

Singer: Do you have any recommendations for a candidate?

Reid: Come to Nevada. That's my first recommendation. You're not going to win running 30-second TV spots somewhere else.


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Minimum Wage Kabuki

Someone raised this issue here earlier, but it does seem to me under the circumstances that the Senate's version of a minimum wage increase could be doomed because it includes changes to tax law, and the Constitution requires all revenue-raising bills to originate in the House.  I would think this could easily be overcome with a fairly common parliamentary tactic the Senate uses to get around that, but it doesn't seem to be the case here.  

What the Senate often does to originate its own tax or tax-related bills is take up a bill the House already passed that is still pending in the Senate, vitiate it (erase all its contents), and replace them with those of another bill on taxes the Senate just passed.  I can see a couple possible catches here though: it's so early in the 110th Congress that I don't know if the House has passed (and thus sent to the Senate) any bills other than the Democrats' initial 6 priorities.  And of those bills, only one addresses taxes: the one repealing cuts for oil and gas companies.  The Senate could vitiate that bill and insert its compromise minimum wage bill, then pass it and send it to the House, which should meet Constitutional muster.  But then the Senate couldn't pass the same bill or a similar one on oil company tax breaks--because that also has to originate in the House.  And while the minimum wage is a higher priority than repealing the oil tax breaks, why sacrifice one of your Six for '06 priorities for another?  And why would the all-powerful Demoratic House majority help the more mixed Senate by giving them another tax bill to vitiate and send back as a compromise minimum wage increase with tax cuts they (rightly) oppose?

The House can certainly rely on the Constitution at this point to justify not acting on the Senate bill.  And it can stand firm and refuse to pass a compromise minimum wage bill, playing a sort of kabuki with the Senate.  I think it would come down to who the public and the media blame for the stalemate: House Democrats for being stubborn, or Senate Republicans for adding poison pill amendments--some unconstitutional.  Polling shows 90% support for the clean minimum wage increase, but I haven't seen any polls on whether the public would support or oppose the Senate bill, or given the choice, prefer it or the House version (my instinct leans toward the latter).  I suspect the determinative round of this battle will play out in PR and organizing.

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House Republicans Show a Continued Tone-Deafness on Corruption

Even after the Republicans lost control of the House in no small part as a result of the corruption within their midst they still seem impervious to the notion that its time to clean up their act. Susan Crabtree has some of the details of Republicans' continued unwillingness to root out corruption within their midst -- or at least even make it more difficult for the less scrupulous members of their party to wield power by removing their ranking status in key committees and subcommittees -- on the front page of Wednesday's issue of The Hill.

After months of GOP ethics scandals, House Republicans chose Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) as the ranking member of a panel charged with investigating financial institutions -- even as the FBI was looking into his land deals.

Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) named Miller to the top GOP spot on the oversight and investigative subcommittee Jan. 9, according to a committee release. Watchdog groups have been raising red flags on several of Miller's land deals since The Hill and other media outlets first scrutinized them early last year. Yesterday, a spokesman for the southern California city of Monrovia confirmed that agency officials had contacted the city about Miller's land deals in the last two months.

[...]

After the election, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who was under scrutiny for his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, decided not to run again for his conference secretary leadership position, and instead Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) ran and won that post. But Republicans decided not to oust Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), another member who is under FBI investigation, from the coveted top spot on the Appropriations panel. [emphasis added]

Republicans and some ethics watchdog groups squawked late last year when Democrat Alan Mollohan, who has also come under investigation over his earmarking practices, was allowed to maintain the gavel of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FBI's budget, perhaps rightfully so (even though Democrats did take the affirmative step of removing Mollahan from the ethics panel in the House). But the fact that Republicans continue to allow corrupt members like Jerry Lewis and Gary Miller -- members whose actions are coming under ongoing FBI investigation -- to remain in leadership positions, just as they did during the last Congress when they allowed Tom DeLay to stay on as Majority Leader even after he was repeatedly chastised by the ethics committee and Mark Foley to remain in party leadership (as well as head of the caucus on missing and exploited children) even as they knew of allegations of his improper interactions with House pages, indicates that they care little about cleaning up Congress or their own ways, and instead are only out to score short-term political points. As such, they will have little credibility on the campaign trail next year if they even think about impugning the Democrats' record on ethics.

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