What a Democratic Congress will probably do during Bush’s last term
I think that the Democrats are in a pretty good position to push for several items that are pretty popular with their base and the American public (even if of questionable policy merit). The items include (off the top of my head):
1) Raising the minimum wage. The last time it came before Congress, Republicans didn’t have the guts to kill it outright and it died so a GOP majority tied it to repealing the death tax. With Democratic control, they have no need to include a death tax provision which puts Republicans (including President Bush) in the unenviable position of having to vote against (veto) a “pay raise for the working poor” (in reality a boost to labor unions whose pay scale is tied to the minimum wage).
2) Tax cuts. The Bush administration and Republicans made the foolish decision to pass temporary tax cuts which automatically expire unless renewed. Democrats now have the opportunity to select which parts they wish to renew or not. Which means that they can renew tax cuts targeting lower and middle-income earners thereby keeping their pledge to “roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the rich” while putting Republicans in the position of either (a) voting against renewing the tax cuts or (b) handing Democrats a win.
3) Immigration reform. We could see a repeat of 1996 welfare reform except this time it will be a Republican President and a Democratic Congress reforming immigration. Bush will then get his guest worker program and there will probably be some sort of provision pushing for enforcement action against employers. McCain’s bill will probably look draconian by comparison and it will give Democrats the added advantage of appealing to more Latino voters while Republicans receive little credit among their base for failing to act when they could.
4) Judicial nominees. Expect to see Democrats repeat what they did when the controlled the Senate and bring as many of Bush’s more liberal nominees up for a vote while running out the clock on the more conservative ones. This will enable Democrats to deny charges that they were being “obstructionist” while preventing Bush from appointing more conservative nominees.
5) Pharmaceuticals. Expect to see legislation to allow the importation of Canadian price controls on pharmaceuticals. Except to see Democrats calling for “reforming” Medicare Part D by requiring the federal government to negotiate for discounts with drug companies. The reason that we don’t is because Medicare Part D was set up to allow seniors to be able to chose from an array of different plans (one of the main Democratic talking points was that it was “too complicated” event though most seniors figured it out) and instead of having a “one size fits all approach” to deciding what drugs will be covered, companies compete on a regional basis through a variety of plans. The competition has actually kept the prices down by more than people expected but the Democrats have been claiming (I’ve yet to see support for this number) that it presents a “windfall” to drug companies. Also don’t be surprised to see hearings on the “profitability” of the industry and calling for a “windfall profits” tax.
6) Energy Policy. We’ll probably see a call for a “windfall profits” tax on the petroleum industry or trying to give the “tax breaks” for the petroleum industry to ethanol or “renewable” energy sources. A lot of Republicans from heavy agricultural areas support the latter. Expect to also see hearings regarding “price gouging” and the industry’s recent profitability.
7) Port Security. Democrats have been trying to make inroads on the GOP’s advantage on national security issues. Expect to see them emphasize how few cargo containers are physically inspected (while of course deemphasizing the fact that they might be subject other forms of inspection just like your luggage is when you go to the airport). Expect hearings highlighting examples of “incompetence” in order to shore up the “fortress America” crowd.
IMO these issues have two advantages. One they’re very popular with their base (which helps to energize them for the next election. Two they’re pretty popular with the public at large which both forces Republicans to either oppose them (thereby looking like “obstructionists” and making it harder to regain control in 2008) or support them and convincing the public that Democrats are fully capable of governing.