Politics & Policy

Tempered Democrats

The damage done by a Democratic House will be mitigated by moderates.

Candidates of both parties who espouse the timeless conservative principles of limited government, low taxes, a judicial branch that respects and abides by the Constitution, and a strong and vigorous national defense will prevail today. Even if there is a new Democratic majority in the House, it will quite likely give Speaker Pelosi an unanticipated headache — while she may realize her much coveted numerical majority, she will not enjoy an ideological one.

The weight of the world will fall on the shoulders of 25-40 moderate House Democrats, a healthy number of whom will be freshmen. They will be at the crossroads of all the major issues that a new majority will want to advance and inevitably will find themselves under the media’s unforgiving microscope; and they will resist certain prerogatives of the Left. 

By June, the liberal bloggers and the Moveon.org crowd will be in full-throated rebellion and will initiate an extended national discussion of whether it was really worth it to have won back control of the House. Speaker Pelosi will try to manage the unrealistic expectations of her base, but will find that no amount of hyped-up investigations and Star Chamber hearings will compensate for the lack of real legislative progress on the Left’s long-suppressed desire for sweeping changes.

Antiwar majorities will emerge in both the House and Senate, but, however pleasing the dominant anti-war rhetoric may sound to the Left, it will be just rhetoric. A new Democratic-controlled Congress will not precipitously pull the troops out of Iraq. There will be too many newly-elected Democrats from Red districts who will have to conform to the conservatism of their constituents. Yet, though the funds will continue to flow, the constant domestic turbulence and endless reports and high-profile hearings will, in the end, prove debilitating.

There are at least three other issues where Democratic control of the House will prove decisive, and of great concern to conservatives — immigration reform, trade agreements both big and small, and the perennial effort to increase the minimum wage.

Given the Senate’s appetite for “comprehensive” immigration reform and the president’s stated willingness to sign a bill approximating the one the Senate passed in May, having Rep. John Conyers at the helm of the House Judiciary Committee would likely tip the scales in favor of a Rose Garden signing ceremony.

Efforts to enact free trade agreements will end once it becomes clear that a new Democratic congress will never reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority. This is an example of how gridlock will effectively reverse current law.

And given that just about every sitting member of congress has voted at one time or another for a hefty increase in the minimum wage, there is nothing to stop congress from passing a freestanding bill to do just that, minus add-ons like tax extenders or provisions to appease the small-business community. Alas, today’s 4.4 percent unemployment rate will be but a fond memory.

While they are a far cry from far-reaching legislative crusades like single-payer health care or a round of massive tax increases on the well-off, these victories for the Left would be substantial ones indeed. An influx of moderate Democrats will soften the edges of a new Democratic House majority, but not enough to avoid some real and lasting harm being done.

 – Michael Franc is vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation.

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