THUMBS UP REDUX

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Anticipating what’s to come in 2014 from the combined old/new Congress, we are not terrifically encouraged.

But first, we have to get past the considerable figure of Chris Christie who may have dug himself a deep hole. At this time, this far out, it’s impossible to tell but for one thing: no one who doesn’t want to run in2016 would spend two hours explaining himself as the governor did yesterday. He wants to be president, period, end of that speculation. There will be more about the Fort Lee disaster, we’re sure, as time goes on, but right now we have bigger problems to solve.

From our point of view, the deal struck in the Select Budget Committee before Christmas recess was a surrender by the Democrats to their long-held-based-on-nothing-hope that cooperation would bring progress. They cooperated, and the Republicans stood firm. As we’ve said before, we think the Dems were rolled in their eagerness to prove to the nation that Congress could – if every condition and break held – get something done, whether it was to the benefit of the nation or not.

Since then, life on the Potomac has been fairly quiet. Which is not to say nothing is being done, planned, schemed for. The Republicans held their first small secret retreat at year’s end. Our guess would be they were pretty pleased with themselves. The “eternal NO” had resounded throughout the land for so many months that the Congress’ term was eaten up by rabid negativism and insanely wrong-headed reasoning, from climate control to unemployment, to veterans’ affairs, to food stamps and the lack of a coherent Farm Bill to what to do about Syria and the Middle East. Even Benghazi made a reappearance (and again today, on Mornin’ Joe. Will it ever stop?)

And the Republicans’ treatment of the president’s nominees for court seats at various levels — not one of whom was held back because of lack of qualifications but only on whims – was appalling. Rushing them through, one after the other, as though these posts were of so little importance they could all be dealt with in a few days in the same fashion. Hey, no sweat. We need our Christmas break.

Now they’re making their ways back to the halls of decision. And during this past month, what have the Democrats been planning to do?

God only knows. They’ve been church mice, obedient, well-mannered. They seem to have made no war plans, envisioned no new strategies, sought no weak spots in the enemy’s armor. It seems they are afraid of losing whatever momentum they convinced themselves was theirs after the budget compromise. They seem not to want to leave the putative high ground for the trenches in which they must live for the coming eleven months.

Well, we know what we’d like to see, and we’d like to see it starting next today, please.

We would be very pleased indeed if the Democrats made a list, made it public, and worked their way through it without stopping.

They do have one new tool to use that would consistently and believably embarrass their honorable colleagues in the Senate: the nuclear option, instigated at year’s end, making it possible for filibusters to die on the vine and votes to be taken on an up or down basis after individual challenges came to the floor. Harry Reid maneuvered the Republicans out of their corners, and now that they are out, he has, we think, an obligation to entice them even further into the open where they can be shot at daily. By that means, Reid can bring whatever he wants to the Senate floor, one by one, and call for a roll-call vote.

What this would do would be to clearly delineate the differences between his team and the Republicans for the entire nation to witness. It is something to see and to understand and ultimately, in November of this year, to vote on. He would be doing the country a favor by demonstrating whether the Republicans have the broader interests of the United States at heart, or whether, as has been the case since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, they are acting, and voting, only for political gain in the future.

There are huge differences between the two parties’ point of view, or maybe we should note between the three parties points of view. To force the Republicans to stand up and be for, or against, something would bring to a fairly fast halt the Republicans’ vaunted ability to slide around problems, rename obstacles, reason as six year olds. To force Mitch McConnell and other sworn enemies of the administration to explain their objections, to make counter proposals, to offer something positive for a change instead of always just saying that such and such is “dead on arrival.”

What we want to see are decisive Democratic plans to deal with specific problems, from finance and the debt ceiling to trimming the Defense Department’s huge budget, from allowing unemployed people a little slack to continue to feel productive and hopeful, to allow the Affordable Care Act a chance to find purchase among the voters of the nation. We’d also be happy to watch Congress take its “baby steps” towards immigration reform, towards signing significant and nonthreatening treaties (regardless of the fears of their opponents which are largely smoke and shadows), to embrace stock market reforms, and tax reforms, to actually considering whether prospecting for more oil is a benefit or a detriment to the communities in which it is done.

But most of all we want to listen and see the Democrats up on their hind legs fighting. We know this may be counter-productive and may force the stalemates of 2013 to continue or become even worse, but if the Democrats can’t or won’t fight – whether or not this is an election year – they’ll be decimated in the next congressional go-round, and they may not recover, nor would the country, for decades.

That, folks, is the kind of cooperation we do not need. We need thumbs up, thumbs down. We need to understand which party has the interests of the country at heart and which does not. We won’t belabor the point. But unless the Democrats find spine, unless they take chances even while campaigning, thumbs up or thumbs down won’t matter one bit.

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