New era of business as usual begins
By JIM SHEA
The 110th Congress is in session.
There is really nothing we can do to stop it.
We just have to sit back and go with the cash flow.
The first thing a new Congress does, of course, is to declare that it will be different from the old Congress.
The next thing a new Congress does is to get down to business-- as usual.
This new Congress will be different from the new Congresses of the past 12 years because the balance of terror has shifted from Republicans to Democrats.
In the House, the Democrats have enough votes to do whatever they want.
In the Senate, the Democrats have enough votes to do whatever Joe Lieberman wants.
The new speaker of the House is Nancy Pelosi. She is the first women to hold this office. As speaker, Pelosi is third in line to the presidency. If you mention this to conservatives it gives them shortness of breath.
Since the Democrats won control of the House in November, Pelosi has divided her time between working on legislative matters and consulting with President Bush on drapes.
One promise the Democrats made during the election was to restore bipartisanship in the House. They vowed not to treat the Republicans as they had been treated -- like detainees.
No GOP input
The new era of openness and cooperation will not be ushered in right away, however. That is because the Democrats want to pass several bills in the first 100 hours, and they don't want the Republicans slowing down their timetable with stupid stuff like input.
The Republicans say they have their own agenda for the first 100 hours, although no one is quite sure why.
Among the legislation the Democrats plan to pass in the first 100 hours is a bill on ethics. For the record, the Democrats are in favor of ethics.
When the Republicans took over the House in 1995, they were also in favor of ethics. But over the years their interpretation of ethical behavior evolved. For example, not getting a lobbyist a government contract in exchange for a campaign contribution became viewed as an ethical lapse.
To guard against such practices, Democrats are proposing that legislators' names be affixed to all below-the-radar spending directives. Such directives are called earmarks.
Maybe changing the name from "earmark" to "payoff" also would help.
The Democrats are also talking about creating some type of body to oversee House members' conduct. Under the Republicans, the House had an "ethics committee," but all it did was find Tom DeLay guilty of violations. So it stopped meeting.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, the first order of business also will be openness and transparency in government. The senators will discuss these matters in a bipartisan meeting -- which will be closed to the public.
Who says the parties can't agree on anything?
Shea is a columnist for The Courant. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service