Hypothetically, if Democrats win Congress, don’t expect a mild left turn. Watch the U.S. Capitol spin nearly 180 degrees.
Congress’s current Republican leadership — their haplessness and profligacy aside — generally features senators and representatives with solidly conservative vote records. Conversely, minority leaders and ranking Democrats on congressional committees are among their party’s staunchest liberals.
A Democratic victory on Capitol Hill naturally would involve a jump to the left. But the Democrats could steer the ship of state hard aport, tossing passengers overboard.
On the left, consider the latest vote scorecards from the ACLU, AFL-CIO, Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), and the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). On the right, peruse the ratings from the American Conservative Union (ACU), National Taxpayers Union (NTU), Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), and the Center for Security Policy (CSP).
The contrast is jarring.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) earned a 100 percent rating from the ACU and CSP. Each judged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) a zero. While the ACLU gave Pelosi a 100, it handed Hastert a zero.
This is a public-policy yin-yang.
The House Judiciary Committee could go from chairman James Sensenbrenner’s (R., Wisc.) zero rating from the ADA to a 95 rating for John Conyers (D., Mich.), who is poised to become chair.
Zero and 95 also reflect the respective PIRG ratings for Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas (R., Calif.) and ranking member Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.).
Another key reversal could befall the House Intelligence Committee where chairman Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) has a 100 ACU rating versus 4 for Alcee Hastings (D., Fla.), who reportedly is expected to head Intelligence if Democrats prevail. A shift from Hoekstra’s 11 ACLU rating to Hastings’ 95 would sway a panel that oversees, among other things, terrorist interrogations.
In November 1988, incidentally, the House impeached then-U.S. District Judge Hastings. The Senate convicted him in October 1989 of perjury and conspiracy to solicit a bribe and ejected him from the federal bench. Three years later, he won a U.S. House seat.
In the Senate, majority leader Bill Frist’s (R., Tenn.) 74 NTU rating could be subsumed by minority leader Harry Reid’s 5.
While Appropriations chairman Thad Cochran’s (R., Miss.) 63 CAGW rating is not stellar, it glistens beside West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd’s 9.
Foreign Affairs chairman Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), with an 88 ACU rating, could yield to Joseph Biden (D., Del.), who boasts an 8.
On Intelligence, chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), who earned zeros from the ADA and AFL-CIO, might swap with West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who received marks of 100 and 79 from those groups.
Today’s GOP House speaker, majority leader, and the chairmen of Ways and Means, Budget, Appropriations, Judiciary, International Relations, and Intelligence average a 91 ACU rating. Their Democratic counterparts score a combined 7. Conversely, compare the GOP’s average ADA rating of 4 with the 95 garnered by these Democrats.
Today’s Senate GOP majority leader and chairmen of Finance, Budget, Appropriations, Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence average an 84 ACU rating and an 11 ADA rating. The Democrats’ equivalents are 12 and 96.
(For my fuller analysis of these figures, click here.)
Some applaud all this potential change.
“This Congress is clearly well out of step with American values,” says Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.
“The ACLU’s scorecard focuses on key votes for civil liberties and the Constitution — and we can see that the current leadership is flunking the test. All recent polls underscore that the American public wants a Congress that believes in our Constitution and the values that make America a great country, and not a government that condones torture and illegal actions by the president.”
“When it comes to protecting consumers, the environment, and our democracy, the leadership of the 109th Congress has tended to vote the views of powerful special interests,” says U.S. PIRG legislative director Anna Aurilio. “A change in Congressional leadership could improve matters a lot.”
Others deem a Democratic takeover scarier than Halloween.
“Under most potential Democratic committee chairmen, big spenders would celebrate Christmas all year long while taxpayers would be stuck with April 15,” predicts NTU communications director Pete Sepp. “The decline in fiscal responsibility under GOP control might turn into a free-fall, unless Nancy Pelosi opens her party’s ‘big tent’ to what conservative Democrats call their ‘Blue Dog’ coalition.”
“CAGW has been critical of Republican spending, especially the increase in pork-barrel projects over the past several years,” says CAGW president Tom Schatz. “However, non-defense, non-homeland security spending has been relatively level for two years. If Democrats take over the House and/or Senate, taxpayers should expect massive increases in wasteful and ineffective domestic programs. The growth of entitlement programs also will explode; attempts to save them for future generations will be scuttled. And kiss your tax cuts goodbye.”
For free marketeers, these data should offer a cautionary tale — and an impetus to keep a Democratic congressional takeover strictly hypothetical.
– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Researcher Marco DeSena contributed to this piece.