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What Washington Needs to Learn From Harrisburg…Today

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From the Boston Globe this morning,a brief paragrapgh that hints at a much, much bigger story:

Legislators reverse themselves on raise
November 17, 2005

HARRISBURG — After bringing four months of abuse down on their heads, Pennsylvania lawmakers yesterday repealed a pay raise they gave themselves last July. Governor Ed Rendell signed the repeal legislation less than three hours after the state Senate approved it, 50 to 0. It passed the House, 197 to 1, on Monday. (AP)

Dash over to Philly’s Inquirer for the details:

HARRISBURG – The legislative pay raise that bludgeoned approval ratings, gave birth to a populist revolt, and knocked a state Supreme Court justice off the bench died yesterday, succumbing to a severe case of political expediency.

It was four months and nine days old.

“Twelve million citizens buried this legislative outrage,” said Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg activist and a leading opponent of the pay raise. “Time will tell what legislators they bury in the primary.”

Gov. Rendell signed the legislation yesterday terminating the double-digit legislative raises, and in so doing penned its epitaph. “I urge the legislature to return to the people’s business and hope that by signing this bill, we can channel the great interest and energy that was focused on this issue for the good of the citizens we serve,” he said.

The bill became law a mere two hours after the Senate gave final approval to it and sent it to the governor.

“We are here to correct a mistake,” said Sen. Majority Leader David J. Brightbill (R., Lebanon) from the Senate floor. “As one of the people who exercised poor judgment, I would like to apologize.”

Genuine anger among Pennsylvania voters forced Ed Rendell and his allies in the state legislature to repeal their sneak-attack pay raise, and to apologize. The political class had hoped that the anger would pass by, but it only grew in intensity, and the electeds could see the seeds of a political disaster a year off, so they moved.

The web-talk radio synergy has empowered citizen activists in ways never imagined, but primarily in the ability to locate and communicate with each other. Paybacks are now not only possible, they are relatively easy to organize. Cross a wire, and the voters will not only know about it, they will be reminded of the failure again and again, and mobilized in advance of a crucial election.

Which is the very sobering message that Senate and House Republicans need to hear –today.

In three separate instances over the past ten days, the GOP elite has either broken with the party’s base or been unable to produce the result that the base believes ought to be immediately forthcoming.

In order of importance:

Most of the Senate GOP’s voted Monday to undercut the war effort and to send a message of weakness to our allies and enemies alike with John Warner’s amendment demanding that 2006 be a “year of transition” in Iraq and requesting even more reports from the Adminsitration on the conduct of the war.

Last week the House leadership failed to rally enough votes to include exploration in ANWR in the deficit reduction bill and then failed to produce a bill period.

These “results” need to change. Immediately.

From my conversation with South Dakota’s John Thune yesterday:

HH: It seems very clear to me that the reaction has been overwhelmingly, even brutally negative on your colleagues who voted, in effect, to undercut the war effort. Have they been hearing from people today?

JT: They have, and I’ve got to tell you, I’ve talked to a number of Senators today, Hugh, who were on the other side of that vote yesterday, who if they had a do-over, would have changed. I mean, I don’t think anybody anticipated the blowback that they would get…

HH: Senator Thune, just a suggestion. Why is it impossible to go to the floor with a resolution that says we know what we did, and we made a mistake, and we wish to correct it on behalf of the men and women in the American military, our Iraqi allies, in order not to send the wrong message. Why not own the mistake like New Coke, and just get it out of the record?

JT: That’s…there’s been some discussion about that, frankly, Hugh, and I’ve been…and even suggested that that might be something we should do, just to get people on the record.

A record-correcting Senate resolution giving guidance to the Conference is exactly what needs to happen, preferably today or tomorrow. Certainly if you are a senior advisor to Bill Frist’s presidential campaign team you know this, or to George Allen’s. The damage done by this collapse isn’t going to go away. It is going to metastasize unless it is repudiated.

See the statement by the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader above.

It is stunning to see Majority Leader Frist this morning describing asbestos legislation as the Senate’s “first priority” in 2006.

Asbestos? First priority? There’s a war going on and a SCOTUS nominee hung out to dry and avian flu warnings piling up. What could the Majority Leader be thinking, except a bald effort to change the subject from the rising discontent on the center-right over Monday’s vote and the accompanying feeling that the country doesn’t have the Congressional leadership it deserves.

Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. Majority Leader Frist is retiring, but do Rick Santorum, Jim Talent, and Conrad Burns want to fight ’06 on these grounds? Are contenders for open or weak Democratic senate seats standing by and saying nothing as the GOP Senate marches over the cliff?

Go back to the floor and undo the damage of Monday. Then schedule a debate on the economy and the need for tax cuts to keep it moving. Start defending Alito, confirming lower court nominees, and praise the Vice President’s speech last night. The lassitude and indifference to the pasting the Adminsitration has been taking is simply amazing.

Get a spine.

The same goes for the House leadership. It is better to lose the budget deficit bill than lose ANWR. You can’t make changes in public opinion by hiding the debate, and the “moderates” who prefer to cripple the search for crucial oil reserves because they are afraid of environmentalist voters who won’t support them anyway need to be debated and voted down. Here’s a graph from last Wednesday’s Washington Post from a House GOP opponent of ANWR drilling:

“Hope springs eternal that we can pull the rabbit out of the hat,” said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), a vocal critic of drilling in the Arctic reserve. “I really do think moderates are coming into their own. We’re flexing our muscles collectively.”

So Boehlert is going to lead the effort to anger the GOP base which ignores the national security issues and endangers the majority and the leadership is going to leave him in charge of a committee because he’s a gerrymandered time-server?

Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania.

I didn’t believe until recently that 1994 in reverse could rise up in 2006. The GOP has decisive advantages in money, the seats that are being contested, and of course the base is deeply supportive of the president and the war.

But the Congressional Republicans first two advantages can be negated by being seen to abandon the the third, and that’s what’s been underway for the last two months in D.C., first with Miers rebellion, and now in the House and the Senate. The D.C. elites –including the professional class that stays year-in and year-out– aren’t getting it, as the surprise among GOP senators at the deep anger over Monday’s vote demonstrates.

There is time to reverse this trend and figure out that the number one priority in November, December, January and every month until victory is achieved is the war, and the number two priority is the courts. (Where, by the way, is the Judiciary Committee hearing on Brett Kavanaugh for the D.C. Circuit?) Yes spending restraint matters as does economic growth via continued low taxes, but asbestos isn’t on the list of key issues outside of the Beltway.

But time is short, and the Congress can’t wave goodbye and jet off to their holidays leaving this mess to fester.

Help wake up the Congress.

First, demand a vote to get a sense of the senate that Monday’s vote was a New Coke moment, and they are sorry. Yep, sorry. Threw a spoke. Took the apple. Fell flat and fast on their faces:

Senate Majority Leader Frist, (202) 224-3344, e-mail

Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, (202) 224-2541, e-mail

Armed Services Chairman John Warner, (202) 224-2023, e-mail

You can also use the Congressional switchboard to contact any other Senate office: 202-225-3121.

Then let four Congressmen who are very vulnerable in 2006 —anti-ANWR Republicans all— know that you will work to see that they won’t be returning to the body if ANWR exploration isn’t sent to the president:

Dave Reichert of Washington State, 202-225-7761, e-mail

Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, 202-225-4315, e-mail

Christopher Shays of Connecticut, 202-225-5541, e-mail

Roger Simmons of Connecticut, 202-225-2076, e-mail

The example from Pennsylvania ought to be front and center in D.C. today and for the rest of the year. The blowback at the GOP is building –on the right. The Senate and House leadership has to know what is coming their way from the Michael Moore-Nancy Pelosi-Cindy Sheehan-Harry Reid left. That can be defeated and in fact decisively so, but not unless they give their own supporters omething worth fighting for.

And it isn’t defeatism in Iraq and asbestos legislation.


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