In the first three of these post-election explorations, I was bold enough to suggest a few valuable measures that the House of Representatives might take in coming months, even if they are blocked from passing laws by presidential vetoes.
Some of these measures are win-win-win propositions, letting Democrats be seen taking the high road, while achieving much good for the republic, while additionally helping to drive a corrupt GOP deeper into the wilderness. Where - one hopes - they might commence a regime of fasting and meditation, in order to re-commune with a better brand of conservatism.
Now I’d like to turn to more ambitious agenda items -- actual bills worth turning into laws. Some will strike the public as so needed and fair that the GOP won’t dare interfere.
But first, in fairness, let us start by looking at what the Democratic Senate and House leaders already say they want. One of my best- respected interlocutors, Marty Krasney, supplied some summaries:
Speaker Pelosi’s legislative priorities for a Democratic House:
Increase the minimum wage (within first 24 hours)
Overhaul House lobbying rules (I have already mentioned this)
Enact recommendations of 9/11 Commission
Cut student loan interest rates
Lower Medicare drug costs
Broaden stem-cell research
Reform education funding
Pass labor reform legislation (Employee Free Choice Act)
Over a longer time frame, Democrats have floated numerous policy proposals in some key areas:
I won’t examine all of these in detail, but take just one of these categories: Budget/Taxes: For example, Democrats pledge they will “seek” return to balanced budgets. Well, almost. And, these days, almost sure is a big improvement!
Details: More oversight and hearings; return to “pay as you go” budget enforcement rules; Comprehensive tax reform/simplification unlikely; Continuation of middle-income tax cuts (set to expire in 2010); alternative minimum tax reform; extension of some business-friendly provisions (e.g., research and development credit).
Also: may repeal/let expire other tax cuts geared toward wealthier tax payers (e.g., lower rates on capital gains and dividends) to pay for other priorities. Plus some targeted increase in domestic spending (e.g., health care, environment, education). An so on...
(A few comments. Raising fleet fuel efficiency standards would appear to be such a no-brainer that dozens of GOP Congressfolk are already crowding aboard the band wagon. (Indeed, no act of betrayal so clearly shows where Bush & co. loyalties actually lie, than their longstanding obstruction of this simple move toward energy independence.)
(Likewise, genuine funding for sustainable energy research will be most welcome. Along with an asserted effort to fund adequate science to finally settle the question of global climate change and (if justified) let us all dismiss the credibility of those shill-deniers.
(On a more amusing note, Dems will probably leave in place the fluke in the tax code that lets the Inheritance Tax go to zero in 2010 and then back to older rates thereafter. Making 2010 the year that elderly moguls hide from their heirs.
----- All Right, It’s My Turn ----
Clearly, the “policy wonks” have been very busy while they were in exile. You can bet they return filled with enthusiasm and with an almost-puritan work ethic! (The trait that probably makes GOP Congressional folk shudder most.)
Still, might there be room on the reformers’ plate for a few more good ideas? Over the next few days, I’ll offer some (including one or two that were mentioned here before).
My Top Proposal... Create the office of Inspector General of the United States...
... or IGUS, who will head a uniformed agency akin to the Public Health Service, charged with protecting the legal and ethical health of government.
No, I am not asking for yet another new bureaucracy! Ninety percent of this service exists today. Every major department or agency already has an internal Inspector General, charged with examining operations and giving warnings - when it comes to minor infractions - or else stepping in when things get out of hand.
The problem? Nearly all of these officials owe their jobs and paychecks to the very same secretaries and directors who head the agencies they must inspect! In some cases, they were old pals, ensuring partiality and conflict of interest.
Only now picture this. What if we made a very simple change, by appointing and assigning and paying all of the inspectors through a civil service unit completely separated from each department’s political chain of command? Indeed, separate from the legislative, executive and judicial branches?
A uniformed service, with its own elite career path like the Coast Guard and NOAA and the Public Health Service... so that the word “general” has real meaning, encouraging higher-than-normal traditions and standards of conduct.
Under this simple law (possibly it could fit on one page), IGUS will command a corps of trusted observers, cleared to go anywhere and see anything. And thereby assure the American people that the government is still theirs, to own and control. IGUS might be appointed by a commission consisting of all past presidents and retired justices of the US Supreme Court, plus other sages, with advice and consent of Congress.
One might imagine special rules requiring inspectors to stay mum when it comes to legal policy decisions that fall rightly in the political sphere, but giving them a range of options when they uncover violations of basic ethics and/or the law. These needn’t all entail immediate revelation or disciplinary action! One might even picture the Inspectorate as a way to provide basic rights to people who are being held under urgent “special circumstances” -- ensuring that those rare exceptions aren’t abused or over-used. And above all, that they are temporary.
Ponder this; the very act of establishing such a General Inspectorate would so clearly be neutral, offering no visible long term advantage to the Democratic Party, that this law would have immediate political effects, triggering so much public approval that (ironically) the Democrats who push this would certainly benefit!
Indeed - (and this will be important, in overcoming a Bush veto) - it is hard to imagine how the GOP (and President Bus) could dare to oppose it.
Consider: there are those who want us to immediately emulate the loony era of Ken Starr, loosing bloody-minded attack dogs across the land in order to ferret out vastly worse and more numerous dastards than ever were seen in the Clinton Era. Part of me wants this, too. But...
...but, in fact, who needs a special prosecutor? We need to uncover truth while MINIMIZING the appearance of petty, immature vengefulness. What better way than to remove impediments that have prevented "the system" from working, all by itself?
When every agency already contains the pieces that we’d need -- all of the right parts in order to create an ideal force for accountability -- how about simply lining those parts up, so that they slip into gear?
Let us first unleash a professional service that serves the people and the republic and the cause of honest government.
==Next time: A series of capsule suggestions.
or see my Suggestions to a New Congress