Thursday, January 04, 2007

Senate's First Day Sure To Shock Bush

Like a young boy who's the new kid at school, George W. Bush probably has no idea what to expect as he starts life with a new, Democratic Congress today. Facing a crew fronted by new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Bush will have to deal with a Congress intent on the actual work of governing, like passing meaningful legislation, scrutinizing judicial nominees and, most frightening of all for Team Bush, actually fulfilling their role in performing oversight on the executive branch of government.

In the Senate, things will start out this morning with a joint, all-Senators meeting in the Old Senate Chamber before officially opening the 110th Congress at noon.

Fear not partisan Democrats: I interviewed Harry Reid last month and, while he says this "bipartisan caucus" is intended to foster a "new tone" in the Senate, there was no mistaking a look in his eye that said he has had enough of Republican games and is committed to governing in a way true to Democratic ideals.

Indeed, when Bush wrote in his silly Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday that "If Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate," Reid fired back as follows:

"There is nothing political about finding a policy to end the war in Iraq, raising the minimum wage, achieving energy independence or helping kids afford college. In fact, politics has prevented progress on these issues for too many years."

No amount of having coffee and bagels with the Republican minority for an hour today -- in a get-together that's entirely ceremonial and not legislative -- will make that go away.

They then move to the Senate chamber to officially open the new Congress by swearing in the following incoming Senators:
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Jim Webb (D-VA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Oh, yeah, they'll swear in some Republican guy named Corker also.

If the organizing resolution -- which is formally voted on by all Senators and sets all committee assignments for the next two years -- is all haggled out and ready, it will be quickly formalized. If some minor deals still need to be worked between Reid and incoming Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the vote will be postponed until next week and may stall initial committee meetings until the memberships are codified.

Now comes the fun part as Democrats make it clear that the days of the do-nothing, Republican Senate are over by beginning to deliver on legislation they promised in the 2006 campaign on the very first day of the new Congress. In fact, Senate Democrats may even introduce key pieces of legislation as soon as this afternoon.

"It's time for Congress to get back to work," wrote Reid in a lengthy memo to his Senate colleagues yesterday. "The 110th Congress will also be known for its renewed commitment to work. There will be a 5-day work week in the 110th Congress. Teachers, miners, and shopkeepers across this country don't get three-day work weeks, and neither should their representatives in Washington."

If that's not enough of a shock to the systems of Senate Republicans, Reid used his memo to lay out in no uncertain terms that Democrats would rapidly begin moving forward on the initiatives endorsed by the American people when they rejected GOP rule over the House and Senate in November.
"Our busy first work period will begin in both the House and the Senate with ethics and lobbying reform so that we can change the way Congress works and do the real work we were elected to do. Next, we will take up a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage to give millions of American families an opportunity to achieve the American Dream, reform the Medicare Prescription Drug program to save seniors, the disabled, and American taxpayers money, and act on the 9/11 Commission Recommendations to fully secure our ports and borders and ensure that our first responders have the resources they need to keep America safe.

"As we move into the second work period, we will work toward full-funding of stem cell research, address global warming and put America on a path toward energy independence, ease the financial burden of college tuition to increase accessibility for hardworking students and their families, strengthen and rebuild America's military, enact comprehensive immigration reform, and enact pay-as-you-go legislation so that Congress has to cover its costs just like American families do.
And, on the Iraq war, Reid made it clear that a change is coming in Iraq policy and that hearings on the Bush administration's conduct of the war and manipulation of Intelligence leading to that quagmire are on the way.

"The days of putting party loyalty ahead of the interests of our troops an the American people are over," said Reid. "Democrats will work with Republicans to bring oversight and accountability to the Bush Administration's conduct of the war and ensure a new policy that meets the conditions on the ground, ensures that the Iraqi government takes responsibility for its own future, and allows our troops to come home."

On a day that is typically full of pomp and circumstance alone, Reid is drawing a line in the sand and telling the other side of the Senate aisle that, like it or not, the time for change is here.

Said the new Senate Majority Leader: "The American people have a right to expect real
leadership from Washington that delivers the needed results that will unite this country and move us forward."

Let's see how Senate Republicans and George W. Bush adjust to that.