As the House Democratic leadership happened to glance at the calendar and realize it was half past December, a mad rush ensued to get out of town and head home for the holidays. The House approved a $636 billion defense bill Wednesday to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and grant a 3.4 percent pay hike for military personnel.
Raising the debt ceiling to a level too scary to say out loud and a few other "rushed" items were also on the docket, such as extending the expiring Patriot Act for two months and diverting unused Wall Street bailout money to fund Democrats' favorite projects, rather than using it to reduce the deficit, as Republicans quite responsibly wished to do.
How these important and controversial items are addressed in such a last-minute flurry is disconcerting. Are there really not enough hours in the day, days in a week or weeks in a year for our elected officials to complete the work they are sent to Washington to perform? Is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) having difficulty managing her time? Are Democrats in over their heads?
Meanwhile, much to the chagrin of the House, the Senate appears to be a slow, deliberative locomotive chugging along its slow, deliberative track, with some senators taking their own sweet time deciding how to vote on the overhaul of one-sixth of our economy in dealing with healthcare reform and how it will affect literally every individual in the United States.
But Senate Sweet Time can be a good thing, indeed. Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) being chided for insisting on the reading of a healthcare reform amendment on the Senate floor is interesting. Reading legislation is something I'd like to hear a bit more of by our elected officials certainly not on every proposal, but on the big ones.
Perhaps if they did this on a relatively regular basis, we could stop lamenting it as a "stunt" or "delay tactic" and begin instead to insist on it. If nothing else, it's a fine and informative way to kill time while thoughtful senators do what they need to do, and talk with whomever they need to talk with, in order to arrive at their final decisions.
And while President Barack Obama has conveyed to his Democratic senators that, politically, he really, really, really needs them to pass some version of healthcare reform and get to conference with the House quickly so that he and his teleprompter have something to brag about at next month's State of the Union address, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has a slightly higher priority than Obama's need for a political feather in his cap.
A staunch anti-abortion stance is what the senator's constituents have come to know and expect, and he has been standing his ground, holding out for stricter anti-abortion language in the Senate health reform bill.
How inconvenient for the president.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Nelson on the issue of abortion, it's hard not to admire him for sticking to his guns as a matter of principle. The same holds true for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Senate momentum is fleeting and sporadic, with a one-step-forward, two-steps-back path. Most Americans probably are pretty comfortable with that approach, even if it's accidental.
In fact, senators might actually be checking in with their constituents throughout this process, rather than with loudmouthed, moneyed activist organizations issuing threats. Or perhaps they are paying attention to the polls' indicating shrinking public support for Obama's healthcare reform and his rather alarming Medicare cuts.
This is supposed to be hard. If it's not hard, then they're not doing their jobs right.
If Obama and the Democrats have over-egged their pudding and the big waves of Obama Change are prevented from crashing all around us, most Americans will be relieved. Some will be disappointed. But overall, if Congress does its due diligence, it may actually gain an ounce or two of much-needed respect, along with a degree of trust, from the American people something that may come in mighty handy in 2010.
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