Thursday, January 04, 2007

100 Hours Mark the Change

Robert L. Borosage
January 04, 2007

Robert L. Borosage is co-director of the Campaign For America's Future.

In the three fleet weeks before the president’s State of the Union address, the new Congress will put down a clear marker that the times, they are changing. The conservative era is over. Common sense is no longer exiled from the nation’s capital.

If the first female Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is successful, the House will start by passing tough new ethics rules to apply to themselves. The new majority will then pass the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade. They will vote to cut interest rates on student loans in half. They’ll empower Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. They’ll roll back a portion of the obscene subsidies that go to big oil and use the money to fund renewable energy. They’ll vote to unleash stem cell research from the zealots. They’ll make common sense investments in homeland security.

And, if they are smart, Speaker Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid will join with Democratic governors to invite the president to join them in launching a 10-year, concerted drive for energy independence—an Apollo Plan for Energy, that invests in new energy and new efficiency, mobilizes science and technology, generates new jobs in America, redresses global warming, while reducing our dependence on Persian Gulf oil.

All this will take place in 100 hours, before the befuddled president gives his State of the Union address. The slim new Democratic majority in the House will demonstrate that they heard what voters were saying. They will take immediate steps to clean up Washington, and turn the agenda from the dictates of corporate lobbies to the concerns—wages, the cost of college and health care, soaring energy prices—that Americans worry about over their kitchen tables at night.

And if the president brazenly advocates an escalation in Iraq—against the advice of the Joint Chiefs, the generals on the ground, the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission, the opinions of a growing majority of Americans and the posture of any sensate observer—the new Democratic majority will oppose that course in virtual unity (with the exception, of course, of Joe Lieberman intent on triangulating himself into absurdity).

None of these measures are earth-shaking. They are the low-hanging fruit. But they represent a dramatic turn from the Congress of Tom DeLay, where none of this legislation would have been allowed to come to a vote. They represent the downpayment, a promise kept—before the Congress turns to the staggering challenges the country faces—the unsustainable global deficits, broken health care system, utter budget mess, the debacle in Iraq and much more.

Among liberals and activists, there is a lot of carping about this agenda: It isn’t bold enough. It doesn’t do what is really needed. It is too easy. It will pass too fast. It will be stalled in the Senate. The president will veto parts of it. It won’t end the war or solve the health care crisis or end the corporate wilding.

But for one moment, or at least 100 hours, let us shelve our well-founded cynicism and unshackle our hopes. Let’s celebrate the change. The most corrupt Congress in memory has been swept from power. The new majority got the message and is marking out a new direction.

Progressives should support that effort, not scorn it. We should mobilize to get our own legislators on board. And once it is passed in the House, we should be putting real pressure to get it through the Senate, where the corporate lobbies are already concentrating their forces, certain that delay, diversion and dollars can frustrate common sense reform. This is a fight worth having. Encourage the champions. Take down the names of anyone—of either party—who stands in the way. After years of folly, this 100 hour agenda will mark a stark change from conservative misrule.

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