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Questions for Democratic Leaders

Speaker Pelosi: “For the Children”Senate Democrats all claim there is nothing they can accomplish unless they have 60 votes in favor, or in the case of a threatened veto, 67 votes.

So if the Senate gets 56 votes for the Webb Amendment or to restore habeas corpus — strong majorities — these worthwhile measures “fail.” Or as the media report it, the Democrats fail or the Senate fails, but it’s seldom because the Republicans obstructed the measure. And Senate Democrats claim they can’t do anything about it.

Tuesday night, however, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted the Senate’s 60 vote rule also restricts what the House can accomplish. The Senate’s self-imposed gridlock is now the House’s excuse as well.

I heard the same excuse from Charlie Rangel during the SCHIP floor debate, when he claimed that many House members wanted the bill to cover children of legal immigrants and pregnant women (as many states do now), but the Senate Republicans demanded that coverage be removed or the bill would never get 60 Senate votes. “This is the Senate Republican’s bill,” he said.

I understand Rangel’s point. But I am surprised that House Democrats see themselves as essentially helpless against this blackmail, with no power to influence the outcome.

Under the Constitution, all appropriation bills must arise in the House. No monies can be appropriated for any federally funded project — including earmarks or “pork” — unless authorized by bills initiated or approved in the Democratic House. That’s power. But I haven’t heard a peep from Republicans complaining about their pet projects being held up.

The White House and the Republican Senators are playing extreme, no-holds barred hardball in Congress, and their goal is transparent. They mean to obstruct anything worthwhile from emerging from the Democratic Congress — unless it’s something incredibly popular like SCHIP with lots of Republican governors counting on it back home — and to prevent anything that would check the excesses of this deeply unpopular President. And to get their way, at critical moments the Administration has lied about nonexistent threats, intimidating the Congress into passing outrageous, unconstititutional legislation. That’s their game.

The same thing is happening again with proposals to make permanent changes to FISA. Once again, the Administration, abetted by Democrats, is making outrageous demands — immunity for its own criminal authorizations and for the telecoms who complied — plus expansions of their warrantless powers — the permanent gutting of FISA and independent oversight. But Democrats are not demanding information about the actual surveillance programs, and they’re still relying on closed sessions with DNI McConnell, who has already lied to them about how necessary the changes are.

The progressive community has been pleading with the Democratic leadership to stand up to this thuggery and to take seriously the mandate they were given last November. We’re not asking Democrats to become thugs; we’re asking them to stop allowing themselves — and the American people — to be mugged. Our reward has been too many Democrats voting to condemn MoveOn’s ad, thus indirectly mugging their own party members.

Given this abysmal behavior, no one should be surprised when the once faithful respond by withholding money from their Senate/Congressional campaign committees. Progressives are urging everyone to channel their contributions away from those who betray them, to those who stand up and fight back.

Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid has explained why the Democratic leadership cannot use the power of the majority to more carefully control what does and does not emerge from the House and Senate. Voting for SCHIP is relatively easy, but what will they do on issues that require more political courage and arm twisting, like the Lieberman-Kyl Iran war resolution [too late!] or more discipline in saying no to gutting FISA or demanding honest facts and justification? Where/what is their game?

There are things Democrats want that Republicans won’t give them. But there must be things the Republicans and this President want that don’t force Democrats to risk “not supporting the troops.” Mark them, and start saying no, until they start saying yes. And if that’s not possible, the leadership needs to explain why or risk losing our help. We’ve had enough excuses.

Photo: AP/Dennis Cook

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Scarecrow

John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley

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