Dems can easily squander the goodwill of the public
Democrats on Capitol Hill can be forgiven if they appear to be gloating at today's start of the 110th Congress. After all, being in the minority in the House and the Senate for more than a decade does make a party feel politically inferior.
But that changed in the November general election when voters let it be known they were tired of the federal government being in the hands of the GOP. They gave the Democrats control of Congress -- after re-electing Republican President Bush in 2004.
The message from the American people is clear: The war in Iraq, the corruption scandals in the House and Senate, and the failure of Republicans to deal with substantive issues such as immigration demand new leadership in Congress.
Democrats have been given the chance to prove that they can do a better job than Republicans, but they will squander the public's goodwill if they fail to keep the promises made during the campaign, or if they appear more interested in settling political scores than in governing.
On Iraq, the American people want clarity in purpose and outcome. Congress has the responsibility and obligation to ask the Bush administration the tough questions that Republicans have ignored. At the top of the list is this: Does the troop "surge" strategy -- boosting the number of American troops by at least 20,000 -- the president is said to be contemplating make sense against the backdrop of the sectarian violence that has gripped the nation?
Democrats should also seek a clear definition from the administration for a term the White House has long been using, "victory in Iraq."
While the opening day of the 110th Congress will be historic in that Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is to be sworn in as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, the new majority in Congress will be judged by the substance of its legislative initiatives.
Pelosi has announced a 100-hour agenda that includes raising the minimum wage from 5.15 to 7.25 an hour; reducing the cost of prescription drugs for seniors; cutting college-loan interest rates in half, and curbing the influence of lobbyists.
Democrats in the Senate want to conduct oversight hearings on a slew of issues, especially the war in Iraq, the full implementation of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and immigration reform.
While Republicans rode roughshod over Democrats when they were in charge, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other leaders in Congress have talked about the need for bipartisanship.
Indeed, President Bush has also adopted a conciliatory tone in his dealings with the Democrats.
"Together, we have a chance to serve the American people by solving the complex problems that many don't expect us to tackle, let alone solve, in the partisan environment of today's Washington," the president wrote in an opinion piece Wednesday published in the Wall Street Journal. "To do that, however, we can't play politics as usual. Democrats will control the House and Senate, and therefore we share the responsibility for what we achieve."
That said, President Bush must acknowledge that he and the Republican controlled Congress are to blame for the partisan environment because they largely ignored the Democrats.
Such an acknowledgment would go a long way toward healing some festering political wounds.