2006-10-20 / Columnists

Meeks Message From Capitol Hill

Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MeeKS Congress has been in recess for about a month. With the exception of a handful of members of Congress who are retiring or running for higher offices, most senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle are either vigorously defending their own seats or actively campaigning for candidates in other districts and states.

On November 7, voters will elect the entire 435-member House of Representatives and one-third of the 100-member U.S. Senate, which means control of both houses is at stake. A lot more seats are in play now than when we went back into session for 19 days after Labor Day.

What a difference a month has made! After a momentary bump from his 9/11 fifth anniversary speeches, President Bush is once again slumping in the polls. The situation in Iraq is clearly going from terrible to horrific. A new national intelligence estimate says our occupation of Iraq is a breeding more terrorists worldwide. The scandal involving former GOP Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate and incredibly outrageous email communication with teenage congressional pages hasn't helped Republican election prospects, either. Nor has the revelation that contrary to the Administration's claims Jack Abramoff, who has been jailed for fraud, influence peddling, and corruption of public officials, in fact had more than 400 contacts with senior White House officials.

Democrats need to pick up 15 seats become the majority in the House. They need to gain six seats to do so in the Senate. Over thirty GOP-held seats in House and about ten in the Senate are in play. Any issue may be the straw that breaks the elephant's or the donkey's back. That's why an intensely partisan atmosphere exists just about everywhere in the country except New York. Here in the Empire State Democrats are poised to sweep statewide offices by wide margins and may pick up seats in the State Senate and State Assembly. Hillary Clinton reelection bid is no contest. Not one New York House Democrat is in danger while two or three House Republicans are in jeopardy.

Ordinarily, Republican voters should feel depressed, but New York Republicans shouldn't. Republicans and Democrats alike in New York City and New York State will be huge beneficiaries from a Democratic Congress. I know this sounds strange, especially in today's partisan "them vs. us" climate and winner-take-all electoral system. Let me explain:

All but one of the New York City's House members are Democrats. Many of them have the seniority to become committee or subcommittee chairs. For example, Rep. Charles B. Rangel would become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives. Rep. Nydia Velazquez would become chairwoman of the Small Business Committee (New York City is the small business capital of the country if not the world). Other New York City Democrats are poised to chair important subcommittees:

Rep. Gary Ackerman would chair the Middle East and Central Asia Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee; Rep. Jerry Nadler the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee; Rep. Edolphus Towns (10th CD) the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Carolyn Maloney the Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology Subcommittee of the Financial Services Committee. (The health care and financial services are vital industries for our city and region.)

Meanwhile, Rep. Eliot Engel would be the chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the International Relations Committee, and Rep. Jose Serrano may very well chair either the Science, State, Judiciary, Commerce and Related Agency Subcommittee or the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

This seniority adds up to legislative power - enough to power through an agenda that really benefits New York City and its suburbs. Enough power to get Congress to address issues of access to health care and housing. Enough power to lead the way in improving and fully funding the No Child Left Behind Act. Enough power to enact a tax policy favors the middle class. Enough oversight and budgetary power to hold the Administration accountable. Enough power to compel the president to change course before he drives us off of a cliff in Iraq.

Above all, our delegation will have the power to begin redressing the gross imbalance between what New Yorkers pay in federal taxes and what they get back in federal programs, services, and grants. This hurts every New York, Democrat or Republican. Correcting this deliberate practice of the House Republican leadership it has nothing to do with partisan politics, but it is why I'll will be out on the campaign trail until Election Day trying to help Democrats retake the House in order to help the New York congressional delegation regain the power to help all New Yorkers.

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