Meeks Message From Capitol Hill
A remarkable thing happened on Election Day: Voters swept Democrats to victory in the House of Representatives by nearly double the 15 seats we needed to become the majority. The electorate also gave Democrats exactly the six seats we needed to regain the Senate majority.
This means that when the 110th Congress convenes in early January America will have a divided government - a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. I think voters had restoring the system of checks and balances in mind. They want a Congress that will check the power of the executive branch. And they want just as much a Congress that will tend to their concerns and that will get things done. Divided government is one thing but I do not believe America wants or needs divisiveness. That's why Democrats are committed to restoring civility in Washington and to working with the president as well as our Republican colleagues to get things done for the American people.
In last month's column I noted that all New Yorkers - Democrats, Republicans, and independents - stood to benefit from a Democrats Congress. New York City Democrats will chair two full committees and a half-dozen or more subcommittees. I have decided to stay on the Financial Services Committee and the International Relations Committee. I just may have enough seniority to chair one of the subcommittees of the latter.
Over in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, who did such a terrific job of leading the Democratic senate campaign effort, will become vice-chairman of the Democratic Caucus. In addition, he will chair the Joint Economic Committee, which advises both houses of Congress on economic policy, and continue as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was reelected by a wide margin, will chair the Steering and Outreach Committee, which works to promote Democrats' legislative priorities.
But, this election was not about becoming the majority just to become committee and subcommittee chairs or hold leadership positions in our caucuses. Democrats strove to become the majority to move America in a new direction. Above all, as polls before and after the election confirm, a new direction in regard to the war in Iraq.
The Constitution gives the president the power to propose and Congress the authority to dispose. For example, the president proposes the annual federal budget. But the Congress must pass a budget before it can go into effect. Congress can pass laws. But the president has to sign off on them. If he does not, Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds majority. That's how our system of checks and balances is supposed to work. Starting in January this is the way the interaction between Congress and the White House will work.
President Bush will no longer have a rubber stamp Congress that gives him everything he wants but that fails to carry out its oversight responsibilities, that refuses to hold the executive branch or itself accountable. He will have no choice but to negotiate and cooperate with the Democrats who will control both the House and Senate. My hope is that the president and the Congress, as well as Democrats and Republicans in both houses, will seize this opportunity for bipartisanship. For our part, Democrats are firmly committed to working with President Bush and to restoring civility to the work of Congress. President Bush has extended an olive branch as well.
Because if we can put an end to partisan bickering and reach a bipartisan consensus and maintain a cooperative relationship with the president, then Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the White House will be able to accomplish a great deal over the next two years.
I am very hopeful.
But, rest assured that Democrats will take control of Congress on January 4, 2007 with a clear and concise set of policy priorities. We will respond to voters' demand for a new direction in Iraq. As part of that effort, in early December House Democrats will convene a forum of distinguished experts to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
Democrats will devote the first 100 legislative hours of the new Congress to restoring civility, integrity, and fiscal responsibility to the House of Representatives.
Breaking the link between lobbyists and legislation, returning to pay-as-you-go budgeting, and not allowing new deficit spending, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, giving America a raise by raising the federal minimum wage, making college more affordable by cutting the interest rate in half on federally subsidized student loans, reforming Medicare Part D to allow the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, ending subsidies for the big oil companies and giving hope to Americans with devastating diseases by allowing stem cell research.
Our commitment is to use the majority that voters entrusted in us to focus on the problems, priorities, prosperity, and progress of the majority of the American people.