Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tuesday at the bar

By Carol Gee

My Glass Runneth Over with blog material today. The Tuesday's-about-Congress blog theme often makes for a slow party at my keyboard. But not today. I have more than I can manage and the nation's road ahead is slick, so a "digest" will have to do.

United States Senate

Former Senator Barack Obama will make a fine President of the United States, with great potential to restore civil liberties, to restore checks and balances, and to restore the rule of law. One of his most admirable themes is bipartisanship, already cautiously welcomed by the GOP leadership. According to a Yahoo! News story:

The Democratic-dominated Congress convenes Tuesday to confront perhaps the worst Great Depression and to grapple with a hugely ambitious agenda set by President-elect Barack Obama.

. . . This year, . . . with the economy in a worsening recession, Democrats are promising swift action on an as-yet-unveiled $775 billion economy recovery program that is the first order of business for the Obama administration.

. . . With their numbers bolstered by last fall's elections, congressional Democrats are well-positioned to dominate the session.

Senator Joseph Biden may not have cast his last Senate votes, despite his being the vice president-elect due to take office January 20. And he is taking advantage of the expertise available by raiding Rep. Steny Hoyer's staff for his legislative affairs director.

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid is just too weak to fill his job description. He drives many in the blogosphere virtually "to drink," though I have no clue as to what to do about it.

Senator Hillary Clinton will make an excellent secretary of state, a shoo-in for confirmation, will be strong enough to fill the job description.

Senator Chris Dodd will be a very, very busy chairman of the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the 111th Congress, looking to assist the auto industry and the financial and housing sectors of our ailing economy.

Senator Al Franken will have to wait to be sworn in as the Democratic Senator from Minnesota, though he has won the race. Even though his opponent, Norm Coleman, will challenge the results in court, Franken will be the 59th Democratic Senator, bring the body close to a tantalizing "filibuster-proof" majority.

Senator Roland Burris (he says) will also be sworn in at some point, speculates Politico, and I agree. Yahoo! News says, "Senate Democratic leaders need to work out a looming confrontation with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces charges of having attempted to sell the seat." And I believe he will run for reelection in 2010.

Senator Ken Salazar's successor, "unknown" Michael Bennet from Colorado, was an early Obama supporter. Bennet has headed the Denver school system, will probably do well enough to get reelected in 2010 as well. Salazar has been tapped to be the new secretary of interior.

Senator Diane Feinstein has no standing to judge Leon Panetta, according to The Reaction's "Creature." And I heartily agree. Nor does Senator Jay Rockefeller, nor Senator Kit Bond, because of their record of caving in time after time to the Bush administration's unlawful and unconstitutional demands regarding warrantless wiretapping, military tribunals, etc. Must the CIA be headed by a spy? Can the director of national intelligence be an ex-admiral? CQ's Jeff Stein, who writes the blog "Spy Talk," makes a very powerful and reasoned argument that Panetta is an excellent choice to lead the CIA, headlining that he "could be the cure for the CIA's ills."

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, will be the very capable chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be this committee that holds the hearings to confirm President-elect Obama's top nominees for key Justice Department posts. McClatchy reports that the naming of the most recent nominees (David Ogden, Elena Kagan, Tom Perelli and Dawn Johnsen) signals "An End to Bush Terror Tactics."# To quote:

President-elect Barack Obama signaled that he intends to roll back Bush administration counterterrorism policies authorizing harshinterrogation techniques, warrantless spying and indefinite detentions of terrorism suspects. The most startling shift was Obama's pick of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to take charge of the Office of Legal Counsel,

. . . Obama said that he hoped that the four appointees would restore "integrity, depth of experience and tenacity" to the lead federal law-enforcement agency, which has been battered by scandal.

"This is a superb set of appointments," said [Walter] Dellinger, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel from 1993-96 and then served as U.S. solicitor general. "These four are highly accomplished in the profession and bring a stature to the job that will allow them to say no to the president when no is the correct answer."

United States House of Representatives

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is strong enough to fill her job description, and she will have the help of a 20 seat Democratic gain in the House to move legislation forward quickly. According to Yahoo! News, "'We will hit the ground running ... to address the pain being felt by the American people,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised Monday as she welcomed Obama to her office."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has done a good job since his election to that post, and even though he was always a strong conservative, he is also a realist.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to curtail presidential pardon powers, according to TPM Muckracker.

Rep. Charles Rangel's ethical problems remain, leaving the door of his powerful committee chairmanship a bit up in the air. House Democrats are contemplating a set of rules changes, strongly opposed by the GOP, that will have the effect of markedly consolidating their power to legislate, as well as keep Committee chairs in their seats without term limits.

"Cleaning up the mess" is what we elected Barack Obama to do. But it is also the job of Congress. We cannot let them off the hook, expecting that President-elect Obama will "come in on a big horse" and clean up the town gone bad. Our entire economy has gone bad and it is rapidly getting worse. Upcoming issues are serious and imminent. Legislation will be required in addition to executive orders and leadership. Hearings cry out to be held, bipartisanship is yet to be learned. We look to the individuals named in this post, along with many others not named, to step up and do their jobs.

Reference: A look at the work of the 110th Congress -- Congressional Quarterly (12/30/08)

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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