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Commentary :: DNC
''They want to ram their agenda down America's collective throat''
22 Dec 2003
With an extremist, dominating Republican party in control, we have lost our system of checks and balances, and ANY functional national forum for the meaningful public debate.
Outlook: Congress
Charles Babington, Washington Post Congressional Editor
December 22, 2003

Congress's minority parties have suffered indignities for decades, but few could top the insult that Republicans dealt to Democrats this fall by locking them out of a series of closed-door sessions to craft an ambitious Medicare overhaul. Whether it amounted to cool Republican efficiency or an assault on fairness and democracy, politicians and the American public had better get used to it, says Charles Babington, congressional editor and former White House correspondent for The Post, in an article in this Sunday's Outlook section. Congressional Republicans and the Bush administration now appear poised to press other initiatives with barely a pretense of seeking Democratic input.

Babington was online to discuss his Outlook piece and whether this is smart politics in the long-term or good for the country.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Somewhere, USA: Is there any such thing as a moderate Republican in congress anymore?

Is there any "center" to that institution at ALL where respectful, intelligent, and most of all benevolent public minded discussion is occuring?

If not, are there any members on either side of the aisle anywhere who are trying to do something about it?

Charles Babington: There are several moderate Republicans in the House, Rep. Chris Shays being among the most prominent. But given the political inclinations of the nation at large (which we can divine from polls), the House has a disproportionate number of staunch conservatives AND liberals. The main reason, as my Outlook article briefly states, is that the states have redistricted their congressional districts in ways to protect incumbents, making most districts either very solidly Democratic or very solidly Republican. A solidly Dem district tends to elect a liberal, and a solidly GOP district tends to elect a conservative. The middle gets squeezed out.


New Rochelle, N.Y.: I remember hearing after the 2002 elections people warning of a power grab by the Republicans and how it may backfire a la Newt. I am a stay at home mom so I get to watch C-Span all day long including Congress. TV stinks at reporting on Congress while papers are a little better.

Have moderate Republicans become totally irrelevant? I watched Sen. Snowe speak about lower drug prices in a committee hearing and she bascially went against everything she was discussing when she supported the medicare bill. She's had the Club for Growth attack her in Maine, also.

It seems moderate Republicans are being kicked out (Connie Morella was one -- the Dems said voting for her would hurt because in the long run she would vote with Bush on certain issues) by the current batch of idealogue Republicans. Shays (R-CT) said something about committee chairs being appointed by measures never used before.

Moderate Dems seem to have more weight with these folks, hense Breaux and Bacus in conferences. Thanks. Sorry I went very long.

Charles Babington: Your topic is similar to the one above. Since you mention Sens. Breaux and Baucus, I'll note that these political forces are quite different between House and Senate. Senators are elected statewide, of course, so any given state's conservative, moderate and liberal voters get to influence the election. House districts, however, often have a disproportionately large number of voters from one end of the spectrum.


Ashland, Ore.: If the Republicans control of Congress were not so iron clad and ideologically fused, do you think there would have been impeachment hearings over George W. Bush's lies to provide justification for his invasion of Iraq?

Charles Babington: No, I don't.


Pacific Grove, Calif.: Politics is one thing, checks and balances another, and justice(hopefully) a third.

I am very concerned that what was left of our stumbling democracy has been profoundly crippled by the current political cirucumstances. With an extremist, ideological disicplined, and dominating Republican party in control of the white house and the congress during a period of both imagined and real war -- we have lost our system of checks and balances, but more importantly have lost ANY functional national forum for the meaningful public debate of issues.

The Republicans -- and George Bush -- are basically saying that there is only one way to run the country and the world , only one way to be a patriotic American -- and demonstrating themselves willing to enlist military and encourage the police to enforce their beliefs abroad and at home.

This is insanity beyond insanity.

Is there any precedent for such a closed-minded, monolithic takeover of the direction of our country? Would you please tell me why this does NOT represent as grave a danger as any outside threat we may be facing?

Charles Babington: I don't agree that we've lost our system of checks and balances. Congress still operates as a separate and powerful arm of government (as do the executive and judicial branches). My article noted that partisanship seems to be growing unusually intense and bitter in Congress. That may have repercussions for how smoothly Congress operates (and certainly, how pleasant or unpleasant it might be to be a member or staffer there). But it doesn't mean the legislative branch cannot continue to function as a check on the executive branch and the courts.


Coconut Creek, Fla.: If the USA is polarized, with approximately 50 percent of this country voting Democratic, is it fair for the Republican congress to completely shut out the other side? It cannot possibly be good for the country? What is your opinion.

Charles Babington: As the Outlook article noted, quite a few Democrats and neutral observers feel it is not fair and not good for the country.


Phoenix, Ariz.: I didn't notice you screaming about how the Democrates locked the Republicans out during Johnson's Great Society. Is this your bias being revealed?

Charles Babington: Locked out in what way?


Bellaire, Tex.: Are Republicans aware that when they become the minority party again in Congress that they should be treated equally and should be shut out out of the process or do they feel they should be treated differently; if so why?

Charles Babington: I can't speak for how congressional Republicans feel they should be treated if/when the Democrats regain power. Some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, have warned their colleagues that payback could be hellish.


Morrilton, Ariz.: In view of the secrecy of the current administration and the public derision of the Democrats by the GOP. How can this be good for the country? The Interview yesterday with Tom Delay and Tim Russert was a classic example. Tom Delay publicly announced that Dean should win the primary because he would be the least competition. This partisanship is destroying our politicals system as we know it and the country is becoming blatantly vehement about it. My question is, "Does this enhance our bettement as a whole?"

Charles Babington: Well, I don't think it's rampant, unwholesome partisanship for a Republican to hope the Democrats nominate a candidate whom the GOP president can defeat. Wouldn't it be kind of weird if Tom DeLay wished for a Democratic nominee who (in his eyes, anyway) was powerful enough to oust President Bush?


Evanston, Ill.: It seems almost ironic, but could a Democratic presential or congressional candidate claim to be non-partisan while coming down hard on the Republicans for excessive partisanship? How do you think that could be presented as a winning issue?

Charles Babington: I think it's hard to make these arguments about partisanship "a winning issue" in any campaign. My experience is (and polls support this) that the average person doesn't care very much about the inner workings of Congress or state legislatures. What's going on in the Congress is vitally important to many who work on policy, but it's hard to get John and Jane Doe to care.


Silver Spring, Md.: I am truly alarmed by the way the Republicans are exercising their congressional majorities -- indeed the Republicans should be forced to read de Tocqueville's chapter on the tyranny of the majority in his great work, Democracy in America. That being said, I wonder whether the Republicans are acting as they are because they fear their majority is to be short-lived, and consequently they want to ram their agenda down America's collective throat before they are ousted from power?

Charles Babington: Quite a few congressional Republicans feel confident their majority status will NOT be short-lived. They are completing a decade of House control, and 2004 could be a good election year for House Republicans, especially if a court lets stand the Texas redistricting plan that would greatly benefit them. As for the Senate, it's a narrow GOP majority -- 51-49. But again, 2004 might be a good GOP year, with Democratic senators retiring in several states where Republicans generally are strong: NC, SC, Ga., La. and Fla.


Washington, D.C.: I believe that the legislative process as it has escalated is an insult and an assault to our democracy, and democracy in general! The citizens who cast their vote expect their government representatives to represent them in the legislative process. We do not vote for them to be purposely ignored by other elected officials when the legilslation affects us all!

It sets a terrible precedent to the world, which we are encouraging to establish and maintain strong democracies.

Charles Babington: Thanks for writing.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Do you know if Alaskan airports are included in the FAA privatization bill? I watched Don Young (R-Alaska), who sponsored the bill, objecting to his airports being participants. He noted that he stays in a hotel near Fairbanks and doesn't like those planes flying so closely. The proposed airports at that time numbered 61 and the representatives got a hearty laugh from his comments and one suggested to knock that number down to 59. The arrogance of Mr. Young having been a the sponsor and not wanting that "in my backyard" leaves a knot in my stomach. What really angers me, also is the neglect of the TV news to run stories as that one, on their stations. Not many poeple watch the C-Spans and most are too busy and get their info from TV news. They are often left in the dark. Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

Charles Babington: Thanks for venting. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with this issue.


Arlington, Va.: Speaking of which, I wanted to ask you about the departed Strom Thurmond. As surprising as his siring a black daughter is, I find more surprising the fact that he paid her well into her 70s. I mean, paying for college is one thing, but 60 years of payments sounds like a shakedown. Wasn't he paying her hush money? Didn't work, did it?

Charles Babington: This isn't my area of expertise, but I've read that the daughter (now 78) has said the payments were not hush money, and she would have kept her secret with or without them.


Olney, Md.: What do you think the chances are of a key Republican or two (i.e., McCain) becoming an independent and siding with the Dems at least on procedural motions? Or at least voting against their party more often? McCain has little to lose, having become persona non grata after making Dubya break a sweat last time around.

Charles Babington: McCain has said repeatedly that he will not leave the Republican Party, and he has rejected many overtures to do so. I'm not aware of any other GOP senators contemplating a switch. That said, Jim Jefford's switch caught me by surprise.


Texas: If it were just a question of partisanship in the government, I figure things would right themselves eventually. But what worries me is that we really seem to be increasingly divided into two separate countries that have little contact with or use for each other.

Could you expand a little on the broader issue of how divided society seems to be? (Personally, I think a whole lot of this goes back to Vietnam, which we haven't really gotten over.)

Charles Babington: As recent elections have shown, our nation is almost evenly divided between the two major parties. But that doesn't mean we are bitterly at each other's throats. Sure, there are plenty of hard-core conservatives in the GOP, and hard-core liberals in the Democratic Party, and they'll rarely agree on anything. But unlike the U.S. House (as noted above), the electorate also has a large number of people at or near the center. While they may consider themselves Democrats or Republicans, they're not radically at odds with each other. And when a particularly strong candidate comes along -- say, Ronald Reagan (R) or Bill Clinton (D) -- many of these centrists will move from one side of the divide to the other, giving the candidate a comfortable margin of victory.


Germantown, Tenn.: Why don't we ever hear from you down here in the conservative South? Your conservative Republican cousin, Jimbo Corkern

Charles Babington: Jimbo, good to hear from you. I owe you a Christmas card.


Charles Babington: I didn't hear back from Phoenix, re Republicans being "locked out" during the LBJ era. The Outlook article noted, however, that when Congress created Medicare in 1965 -- when Dems held the House, Senate and White House -- Republicans participated in the conference committee, and many House and Senate Republicans voted for the final measure.
That's it for today, thanks for participating in the chat.
See also:

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