The Democrats’ plans: Old-timers will run the House, but their agenda is not clear (The Economist, Nov 9th 2006)
IF YOU think the Democrats’ triumph will bring fresh young faces pushing a well-honed agenda, think again. Unlike the Republican upstarts who stormed to power in 1994 with their “Contract with America”, the new House of Representatives will be run by veterans with few coherent plans.
Nancy Pelosi, the putative speaker, has agreed to respect the ancient custom of appointing committee chairmen by seniority (a tradition the Republicans ignore these days). As a result, seven of the 19 likely committee chairmen are over 70. John Dingell, who is set to head the Energy and Commerce Committee, has been in Congress for 51 years. […]
Less clear is whether Ms Pelosi and her generals can push a coherent agenda of their own. The Democrats’ equivalent of the “Contract with America” is a 31-page pamphlet called “A new direction for America”, boiled down for campaign purposes to “Six for ’06”, a six-pronged action plan that Ms Pelosi promises to enact within 100 hours of becoming speaker.
Unfortunately, this “agenda” is little more than a series of soundbites designed to show that Democrats care about the plight of ordinary workers. There are pledges to raise the minimum wage, expand tax-break subsidies for college, “free America from dependence on foreign oil” by boosting alternative fuels and ending tax giveaways to big oil, allow the government to negotiate lower prices with drug firms, promote stem-cell research, and stop any plans to privatise Social Security.
The plan says nothing about some of the tougher issues facing America’s legislature. Not a word about how Democrats might fix Social Security’s finances. No mention of how they will deal with the Alternative Minimum Tax which will, without new legislation, hit 22m Americans in 2007, up from 3.4m in 2006. Worse, the proposals are internally inconsistent. There is a promise to end the Republicans’ fiscal profligacy by reinstating budget rules that require tax cuts and spending increases to be matched by savings elsewhere. But there is no explanation of how the Democrats’ own pet tax cuts or spending increases would be paid for.
Within the next few months the Democrats will have to decide whether they care more about fiscal discipline or shovelling money at ordinary Americans.
The problem for Democrats is that seniority means their committee chairmen are mainly from safe inner-city districts and haven’t ever had to reconsider their support for the Great Society. The House will be run by folks who think the ’70s were the Golden Age.