Anyone who has been following the news in recent weeks will undoubtedly have noticed a growing and very disturbing trend. Namely, the solid Democratic majorities in Congress, the largest in 30 years, just can't seem to get their act together. From energy to health care to wilderness, the Democrats are putting on a sorry show of missed deadlines, blown opportunities and an inability to provide leadership for a nation adrift.
Let's start with Montana senior Sen. Max Baucus. After deciding it was up to him to lead the nation's health care reform effort, Max has done little but flounder. Some critics, pointing to his massive, multi-million dollar campaign contributions from the health care and insurance industries, would say Max isn't leading because he's more intent on serving the interests that fund him than the people who voted for him. Unfortunately, it's worse than that.
Just last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D–Nev., dressed down Max in no uncertain terms for continuing to pander to Republicans on health care reform. Max, of course, likes to trumpet what he calls his "bipartisan" plan, using such arcane terms as "more sustainable" to justify his kowtowing. Basically, Reid told Max to give it up and get on with the show, especially since the Democrats now have enough votes in the Senate to pass anything they want without a single Republican vote in support.
For Montanans, the whole concept of "bipartisan" is laughable. We've been treated to two legislative sessions in a row where solid bloc voting by both Democrats and Republicans has occurred on almost every piece of major legislation—not that they have produced much in the way of progress or major legislation, but that's another story. Yet, here's Max Baucus, still trying to appease Republicans who had their chance at leading the nation and failed miserably.
In the meantime, the House has its own problems. The Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill is being hailed as some kind of a solution to global warming and the nation's energy future. But in truth, it is no such thing. For instance, it contains a "cap and trade" provision for emitting global warming gases such as carbon dioxide that will do little except create a nightmare web of futures trading in pollution—the same sort of risky financial wheeling and dealing by the mega-bankers and investment houses that brought us the recession and the collapse of Wall Street's giants.
And guess what? Unlike other methods, such as a straight carbon tax or a cap and dividend program that would auction off the pollution permits and send the dividends back out to the people, Waxman-Markey allows massive amounts of pollution to continue—leaving us with the same problems we have now, albeit perhaps shuffled around the country. Too bad, but thanks to Demo lameness, all those kids with skyrocketing rates of asthma who are choking their young lives away in our polluted cities have little or nothing to look forward to in the way of relief. The bold Democrat plan to actually reduce pollutant levels may happen by 2050—and, after all, that's only another 40 years down the road.
Then, of course, there's Montana's own Democratic travesty, Sen. Jon Tester's wilderness—err, I mean logging—bill. We haven't seen it because it was written in secret by a few select organizations and timber mills and, by golly, they're keeping it under wraps until the bill is actually introduced. You probably recall all those Loggers for Tester campaign rallies, don't you? And the massive timber mill vote that sent Tester to the Senate? What, you don't remember those? Neither does anyone else, because they didn't happen.
Yet, for some bizarre reason, Tester, who maybe caught some kind of D.C. virus from Max, thinks it's his job to appeal to those who didn't support him instead of those that did. Rather than serve what is commonly called "the base" in political jargon, Tester has scuttled not just to the middle, but well into the camp of those who did not vote for him in the past and probably will not vote for him in the future. Tester's base, those Montanans that threw fundraisers, manned campaign offices, knocked on doors and put up yard signs to get him elected, is dissolving as his campaign promises fall by the wayside to whatever definition of political expediency blows by in the D.C. winds—which are not, sad to say, the winds of change.
Plus, we have this week's distressing news that, with Democrats totally in charge of Congress and the White House, we have set a new, $1 trillion record for the deficit—and we're only three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year. You would be in good company to wonder how so much money can be getting borrowed and spent (again, another Demo promise falls by the wayside) while achieving so little for the populace. The Dems, however, much like their Republican pals, have been very good to the bankers and corporations.
Meanwhile, President Obama, Mr. Hope and Change, is telling us we must "be patient." Could it be that he, like many of us, is wondering why the Democrat-dominated Congress seems incapable of leading? Could he, like many of us, be wondering why the Demo majorities can't pass bills, why they miss their own deadlines, and why what they finally produce seems riddled with stale, Republican-leaning policies?
Of course this is not a plea to return to the really bad days of Republican domination of Washington or Montana. But sooner rather than later, the Democrats had best figure out that they got elected to change the course of our nation. And you don't do that through lame excuses, even lamer legislation, or pandering to the same powerful special interests that brought our once-great nation to its knees. You do it by leading, and our patience is running out.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.