On September 18, 2007, the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its third annual report on the most corrupt members of Congress, and it is not surprising that eighteen of the twenty-two members of this Hall of Scum are Republicans (including the recently indicted Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona). However, the Democrats have no reason to pat themselves on the back because the reason for the lack of meaningful ethics reform in the current session of Congress is that many Democrats (such as Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana) do not support genuine ethics reform in Congress. Many Democrats campaigned for Congress in 2006 by railing against the culture of corruption in Congress, but now they are learning how to peacefully coexist with that culture of corruption.
Polls indicate that most people have negative opinions about Congress as a whole but are much less disenchanted with the members of their own congressional delegations. However, that dynamic could change if the Democrats in Congress do not start learning some lessons from their failures. Obstructionist tactics by Republicans have made it extremely difficult for the Democrats to enact legislation, but the Democrats have not made any serious effort to advance progressive legislation, which at least could be used as a vehicle to demonstrate to voters why elections should matter. It is true that 40 Senators can hold legislation hostage, but if those 40 Senators never have to exercise their right to filibuster, the finer points of this civics lesson are lost on most voters. Unfortunately, the Democrats in Congress are quick to admit defeat even before they begin to fight. There are some significant policy differences between the two major parties, but Democrats in Congress have been politically inept about explaining these differences, and there are few voters who can be inspired by the timid performance of the Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama both would protest that the razor-thin Democratic majorities in Congress have prevented them from achieving success in Congress, but the truth is that neither of them has demonstrated much effort to propose or support progressive legislation.
Although most Democrats hoped for more progress in disengaging our military forces from iraq, the manner in which this issue has been manipulated by the President and by his supporters in Congress is not surprising. Because the Democrats should have realized that efforts to withdraw our military forces from Iraq likely would result in a stalemate, Democrats should have been much more aggressive about making progress on other important issues; the war in Iraq is not the only important issue in the world.
The inequitable tax structure in the United States is an abomination, but Congress has not been willing to reverse the government-assisted redistribution of wealth to the most affluent members of society, and this disparity has gotten worse every year that George W. Bush has been President. Because members of Congress think that average, honest taxpayers are chumps, Democrats in Congress are not willing to revise even the most egregious tax cuts engineered during the past six years, Democrats are not willing to close loopholes for offshore tax havens, Democrats are not willing to close tax loopholes that subsidize outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, Democrats are not willing to place reasonable tax liabilities on profits for hedge funds and private equity funds, and Democrats are not willing to provide enough staff to the Internal Revenue Service to enable this agency to investigate massive illegal tax evasion (often by the most wealthy individuals and corporations) and to collect the billions upon billions of tax dollars that are owed but never paid year after year.
Reform of our system of funding healthcare is held hostage by the insurance industry, and well-placed campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans have the desired effect. Democrats have not enacted much-needed election reforms that would guarantee equal access to voting facilities, and legislation has foundered that would prevent election fraud via error-prone electronic technology that can be manipulated too easily and has no transparent or reliable method of verification. Federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Food and Drug Administration are deprived of staff and other resources that are needed to serve the public adequately. Proper attention to infrastructure repairs and maintenance, and substantial new investment in alternative energy sources, would create millions of well-paying jobs in the United States, but there is only tunnel-vision in Congress.
Our current budget priorities are a national disgrace, but a Congress controlled by Democrats has not made any meaningful changes to this dismal agenda. There was a time when the public could be placated with an explanation that there is not enough revenue to pay for a progressive legislative agenda, but more people are beginning to understand that if a trillion dollars is being spent for something that is not necessary (i.e., the misguided war in Iraq), money can be found to pay for things that are necessary. Where there is no will, there is no way.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are relatively decent people, and both of them have tried to defend the current session of Congress, but neither has done so credibly. Of course there are obvious political reasons for putting on a brave face, but any Democrat who is proud of the minimal accomplishments of the current Congress does not merit re-election. The primary advantage for the Democrats is that the Republicans in Congress have earned the disgust of most voters. This year, Democrats will campaign by complaining about the way Republicans used obstructionist tactics to prevent the Democrats from achieving their legislative goals, and there will be some truth behind the whining, but most voters will not remember the situation accurately because it is extremely rare for the Democrats to force the Republicans to debate the Republicans' morally bankrupt policies in public view. In November, most voters will remember a do-nothing Congress because most Democrats lacked the courage of their convictions and because many Democrats lacked even their convictions.