2009-03-27 / Top Stories

Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill

Question: Are We Trying To Do Too Much? Answer: There's So Much To Do
By Congressman Gregory Meeks

During a two year campaign that took him to nearly every state in the Union, Barack Obama promised he would bring change to Washington. Well, he certainly has brought a lot of chances and he's only been in office 60-plus days. It turns out that some folks like the changes; some don't.

But, as far as public opinion goes, there isn't an even division of the house. By 2 to 1, a majority of the public approves of the job the president is doing. Three in four Americans support the economic stimulus package (officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) Mr. Obama worked with Congress to enact. Over 70 percent of the public backs him on health care reform, stem cell research, and education.

A New York Times-CBS poll last month indicated that 73 percent of the public expects conditions to improve under the Obama Administration, although not immediately. I interpret this to mean that a majority of Americans are hopeful yet realistic. They know a lot of heavy lifting is required to get the country out of the hole it is in, but believe that the country now has a president and Congress willing and able to do whatever is necessary to accomplish this task. This may be the biggest change of all.

And after nearly a decade of indifference and irresponsibility, also may be the biggest adjustment many politicians and pundits have to make. You could see this in Tuesday night's press conference where White House correspondents tended to ask "gotcha" questions while the president gave "what we've got to do" answers.

The pros and cons about the changes that President Obama is bringing breaks down largely along partisan lines. Most Democrats are for them while many, but far from all, Republicans oppose them. Most Congressional Republicans only know one word:

"No!" ? No to the stimulus package; no to restoring tax fairness; no to universal health coverage; no to earmarks unless they are Republican earmarks. I didn't hear this chorus of "no's" from that side of the aisle when President Obama's predecessor was loading up the country with record debt and deficits and ignoring regulatory responsibilities that might have preempted much of the reckless Wall Street behavior that has put us in the present fix. Lately, the president's critics have been humming a new tune: "he's trying to do too much." Instead, they say, he should "just focus on the economy." This group can be divided into two camps:

Those who are genuinely supportive but worry that the president might overreach. And those, as Rush Limbaugh infamously put it, who want "Obama to fail."

This "trying to do too much" accusation is directed at the Democratic-controlled Congress as well as the Obama Administration. There is, after all, very little a president undertakes that does not require Congressional cooperation in the form of legislation and appropriations. Hence, the old saying, "the president proposes, the Congress disposes."

It's hard to name something the president has undertaken in domestic or foreign policy that is not connected to combating the recession and doing it in ways that make a down payment on the long-term well-being of the economy. Congress has been working in tandem with the Administration on most of these undertakings. What would critics have us drop: reforming health care; renovating our education system to ensure a globally competitive workforce; greening the economy; achieving energy independence; modernizing the nation's infrastructure and power grid; moving toward transparency and accountability in budgeting?

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives organized into 20 standing committees, 2 select committees, and over 100 subcommittees. The 100 members of the U.S. Senate are organized into 20 committees with 68 subcommittees. The House and Senate come together in 4 joint committees, including the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Joint Economic Committee. Very few committees and subcommittees do not directly or indirectly relate to economic matters. There isn't a single member of either the House or Senate who does not serve on at least one committee or subcommittee that has jurisdiction over some aspect of the U.S. or global economies. It's impossible to "focus on the economy" without tackling the global competitiveness of our workforce. That means education.

It's impossible to address the global competitiveness of American businesses without lifting the burden health care costs impose on U.S. companies and their employees. Likewise, it's impossible to renew our economic capacity and give due regard to protecting the environment without developing significant alternative energy sources. We cannot break out of recession without global cooperation on trade and on financial regulation or without cooperation between Congress and the Administration in returning the country to fiscal

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