Meeks Message From Capitol Hill
Meeks Message From
First Six Months In The Majority: A Record Of Accomplishment
Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks
June marks six months of Democratic control of Congress. Although that's a short time, it's still fair to ask "what have we accomplished and are we on course to justify the faith voters placed in us in the midterm election last November?"
Against powerful odds, Democrats are steadily building up a record of accomplishment on behalf of the American people. On the main issue on which voters put us in charge to change, we passed bipartisan legislation that fully funded our troops, set benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and a timetable for bringing our military forces home. The president vetoed this measure. In spite of being the majority in both houses, we could not override President Bush's veto; not because Democrats were unwilling to do so, but because the Democratic majority isn't large enough and because so few Republicans were willing to buck the president. That won't be the end of congressional action on this issue. Congressional Democrats are committed to doing everything within our constitutional authority to end the fiasco in Iraq. The next battle is likely to be the defense appropriations bill. Hopefully an equivalent of Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who broke with the president this week, will come forward in the House, as well.
Under Democratic leadership, the House and Senate have enacted measures to clean up the mess at Walter Reed Hospital and other veterans' medical facilities. The House also passed legislation that: increases support for the families of troops in harm's way; provides additional billions of dollars for troops that suffered catastrophic injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder; raises the federal minimum wage; allows Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices; makes college more affordable; ends subsidies to big oil companies and reinvests in renewable energy; implements the 9/11 Commission recommendations on homeland security; enhances federal support for stem cell research; and strengthens congressional ethics.
The road to adopting these measures has been rougher in the Senate. Where Democrats have a 233 to 202 majority in the House, there are only 49 Democrats in the 100-member Senate in addition to 49 Republicans and two independents. The independents function with the Democrats, giving them a 51-vote operational majority. Joe Lieberman, one of the independents, votes with the Republicans and the Administration on Iraq policy. Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to cut off debate and bring a bill up for a vote. This enables a handful of Republicans to prevent Senate consideration of legislation already adopted by the House.
The Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are not large enough without significant Republican support to attain the two-thirds majorities of each house required to override a presidential veto. But, all things considered, our record for the first six months is impressive. This is particularly so, given the colossal effort required to overcome the inertia of the rubber-stamp Congresses of the past six years and to build up an atmosphere of bipartisan compromise.
Two things account for the accomplishments of the Democratic majority: leadership and heavy lifting. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and a skillful team of dedicated and determined committee chairs, particularly Ways and Means Committee chair Charles Rangel, in the House, and Majority Leader Harry Reid and his team in the Senate, including New York's senior senator, have worked long and hard to get the job done. It's not unusual for House and Senate Democrats to put in a 12-to-14 hour day. We are all tired. Our families and constituents complain about not seeing us enough. But this is what we have had to once again do- make Congress an effective check and balance on the executive branch.
By mid-May, the 110th Congress also had held 208 full-committee oversight hearings. House and Senate full committees and subcommittees had held 194 oversight hearings just on the Iraq War. The House and Senate judiciary committees are working diligently to get to the truth of what role the White House and the Attorney General played in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. We've also succeeded in bringing Democrats, Republicans, and the Administration together on trade policy. We are working hard on immigration reform. We are aggressively engaged in adopting next year's budget in a way that restores fiscal sanity. We also are gradually succeeding in attracting the support of moderate Republicans whenever, and on whatever, possible. I have personally been involved in the formation of a bipartisan Dialogue Caucus that supports implementing the Iraq Study Group recommendation, and just this week, in launching a bipartisan Services Caucus that seeks to enhance the global competitiveness of our nation's services industries.
According to figures from the Office of the House Clerk, the first sixth months of the 110th Democratic Congress far exceeds the first six months of the three preceding Congresses in roll call votes, suspension bills, bills passed under a rule, and days in session. The 110th Congress conducted 425 floor votes compared to 227 for the 109th Congress, 226 for the 108th Congress, and 149 for the 107th Congress. The 110th Congress has acted on 120 suspension bills compared to 58 for the 109th Congress, 81 for the 108th Congress, and 49 for the 107th Congress. The current Congress passed 43 bills under a rule compared to just 19 for the 109th Congress, 17 for the 108th Congress, and 14 for the 107th Congress.
Our first six months in the majority shows that progress is slower than we would have liked, but it's been a steady record of accomplishment.