January 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]

110th Congress: open for business

More likely, it is open against business, but that remains to be seen. Senators Reid and McConnell met this morning in preparation for the opening session of the 110th Congress and announced their desire to work together in a constructive, bipartisan fashion. Kumbayah! Well, that's easier said than done. After all, it was Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin who compared U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo to totalitarian regimes [in June 2005]. That wasn't very nice, or truthful. Indeed, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that "Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking." After the Democrats' initial "100-hour" flurry of reform bills and resolutions, much will depend on whether the Republicans are disciplined enough to behave like the responsible minority party they once were. If so, the Democrats will be under heavy pressure to show to the public that they were serious about getting things done for a change. The Democratic base is ardently opposed to any backtracking, however: Activists on the Left are pushing hard to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible, and even begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush; see the Post. One of those activists is on my list of unmentionable wackos.

In a surprising gesture of cooperative spirit, President Bush declared he will submit a plan to balance the budget within five years. He also wants Congress to make the process of "earmarking" appropriations bills more transparent, to prevent sneaky things like Sen. Ted Stevens' infamous "bridge to nowhere." See Washington Post. Well, it's about time! Actually, such rules changes were proposed over a year ago. I suppose it's easier to call for spending cuts and restraint in pork barrel projects when your party is no longer in charge of the budget... Likewise, Bush's readiness to acquiesce is a major hike in the minimum wage is understandable politically, but from a conservative policy standpoint, it is terribly depressing.

Interestingly, wonk-blogger Josh Marshall has been too busy complaining about the execution of Saddam Hussein to devote much writing to the Democrats' first day back in legislative power. As the Republicans learned over the past decade, the responsibilities of actually making policy decisions can wear a guy out. For some folks, it's easier just to throw mud and whine about red herrings.

Will Democrats get hold of themselves and refrain from the temptation to exact maximum short-term revenge against the Republicans for the sake of their long-term interests? All those squabbles associated with Rep. Pelosi's choice of committee and caucus leaders make one skeptical. I have nothing against women in positions of power, mind you! I'm guessing it will be a few months before she really gets the hang of leadership, giving and taking as dictated by political expedience. In the meantime, the table of congressional leaders, which appears on the Politics blog page, has been updated. We should remember that South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson remains hospitalized after suffering a brain hemorrhage last month, and no one expects him to return any time soon.

Making up, too late

Rep. Virgil Goode shook hands and made up with new Rep. Keith Ellison, who used the Koran for the ceremonial oath-taking. Humble reconciliation is a good and Christian (!) thing to do. Meanwhile, however, Goode's office in Charlottesville was spray-painted with the word "BIGOT"; see TPM Cafe. The town where Thomas Jefferson used to live really doesn't belong in Rep. Goode's Fifth District, which consists mostly of rural counties in south-central Virginia. Blame that on the 1992 redistricting by the Virginia Democrats who took away then-Rep. George Allen's constituency; and the rest is history...

The Nixon Library

I've seen an old colleague (well, he was way above me) from the U.Va. Miller Center on C-SPAN a few times recently. Timothy Naftali, a Cold War historian who wrote Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism and several other works, was named Director of the Richard Nixon Library & Museum last April. A month or so ago he appeared with former Secretary of State Al Haig in a discussion of Richard Nixon's foreign policy legacy. I must say, Gen. Haig is still on the ball after all these years, and he's not afraid of expressing criticism of the neocons around Bush who have left Iraq in such a mess. (He was kind enough to respond to my queries about the Falklands crisis while I was doing my dissertation research.) Prof. Naftali is truly both "a scholar and a gentleman," a combination that is hard to maintain these days. He grew up in Montreal and was an Expos fan from the days that they played in Jarry Park.