Art Cullen

Cowering Congress

If you had hoped for an expedited end to the war in Iraq, you would be disappointed. If you had hoped for a modest expansion in health insurance for the children of the working poor, you would be disappointed. If you had hoped for a reform farm bill, you would be disappointed. If you had hoped for more federal help to save our environment, you would be disappointed.

Little wonder that most people are disappointed in Congress for its inability to move this nation forward despite President Bush. Even the Democratic voters are fed up -- 80% disapprove of the job Congressional leaders are doing.

Democrats were given control of the House and Senate in 2006 by voters who expected a check on the Bush Administration. Where is it? They expected change but got the status quo.

They expected an end to the war in Iraq. Democrats in Congress rolled over like sheep and gave the administration everything it wanted to expand the unsuccessful war in Iraq. Polls say 70% of the American public wants Congress to cut off funding for the war, but the Democrats are afraid of Bush and minority Republicans in Congress.

They expected that Democrats would start on a path to health insurance for all. Congress has been able to accomplish nothing on that front. Democratic leaders in the House have not been able to muster the votes necessary to override President Bush's veto of a modest expansion of the children's health insurance program. As for adults, nothing has been done.

They expected that Congress would follow the lead of Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in writing a farm bill that would eliminate direct payments to non-farmers, cap payments so the largest farms don't gobble up all the benefits, enact a green payment scheme that rewards conservation, and build a new renewable energy program. What we are about to get, instead: more direct payments, no effective payment caps, a cut in conservation funding, and a mere $2 billion to get us off our addiction to oil. It appears that the Farm Bureau wrote the House Farm Bill.

We expected that Congress would allow us more help to restore our glacier lake in Northwest Iowa from a century of sedimentation wrought by sloppy farming practices. What we got: Nothing.

Not a dime's worth of difference can be seen between the cowering Democrats controlling Congress and the Republicans who preceded them. Voters understand this perfectly, and the polls reflect it.

"I'm frustrated, too," Harkin told us Oct. 4. "We're going through a wrenching time with this budget. We could say, 'The heck with it' and put it on our grandchildren. … This Iraq war is a millstone around our neck."

The war costs upwards of $12 billion per month.

We have a simple prescription: Cast off the millstone. Deny the funding for the war, and appropriate the money where it belongs. Stand up to the agri-industrial lobby and get rid of direct payments. Put an effective cap on farm bill payments. Act like the opposition party for once.

Democratic presidential candidates need to stand up and say clearly how they will end this war -- the three leading contenders have not. They need to tell us how they will deliver health care insurance for all, when they can't even do it for poor children. They need to declare war on Big Oil and the agri-industrialists who are fighting like mad -- and winning -- to sink renewable fuels. They need to end corporate welfare for the biggest farm operators. They need to lead, because that's what voters expected when they went to the polls.

Don't blame it all on Bush. Congress has a constitutional role that it has abrogated.

As it stands, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans deserve support in November of 2008. At least the Republicans continue to stand on principle, even if it is wrong. The Democrats have not identified the principle that voters handed to them. They need a spine, and maybe they'll get one before it is too late. But we doubt it, based on what Congress has not done so far.

Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times, where this editorial first appeared. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2007

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