Few Portents of Bipartisanship in D.C.
No matter what members of Congress tell the media, there are few if any signs of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill as Bush prepares to take over the government. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, House minority leader Dick Gephardt refused under prodding from host Tim Russert to say Bush was the “legitimate” president of the U.S. On This Week, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle said he approved of efforts by the media to do independent vote counts in Florida, adding, “We already know Al Gore got more votes in the popular election.” Jesse Jackson insisted more openly that Bush was not legitimate, since, he said, legitimacy “comes from the consent of the governed.”
As for the conservative Republicans who narrowly rule Congress, House majority whip Tom DeLay said conservatives would push Bush’s agenda. “For the first time in 50 years, we have both houses and the White House. The difference now is that they won’t have a Democratic president to veto this stuff,” DeLay told The Washington Times last week.
Members of the Black Caucus are in no mood to deal with Bush. Some will boycott the inauguration. “I will definitely not go [to the inauguration],” New Jersey congressman Donald Payne told Roll Call. “How can I go when the legal apparatus put in place by [Bush’s] campaign disenfranchised my people to exercise their God-given right to vote? His [inauguration] party is not a place for me.” Putting Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice in top positions in his administration doesn’t assuage Black Caucus members. And the mere presence of Cheney as vice president infuriates them. “Dick Cheney voted to keep Nelson Mandela in prison and against Head Start,” Payne said.
Don’t count on conservative Southern Democrats jumping ship and joining Bush to give conservatives a wider majority in the House. Louisiana senator John Breaux, the most visible of these Blue Dog Democrats brushed off Bush’s bid to join the cabinet. Numbering 30, the Blue Dogs aren’t a force to be trifled with. And, in the past at least, they have not shown any liking for supply-side tax cuts, which is what Bush is proposing. They have resolutely fought for a balanced budget as a means of reducing the debt and, along with it, the nation’s enormous interest payments, and to shore up Social Security. In their view any budget surplus ought to be applied to reducing the debt. The Blue Dogs are extremely cautious about setting in motion any tax cuts until basic government programs like Medicare are adequately funded.
Finally, congressional Republicans can end up tying themselves in knots in their efforts to manipulate committee chairmanships and duties so as to benefit conservatives. For example, Republicans want to strip the House Commerce Committee of oversight responsibilities on finance issues as a way to cut off once-powerful Michigan Democratic congressman John Dingell, the chairman under Democratic rule. Dingell still considers the Commerce Committee his fiefdom and has used its oversight investigations as a tool against corporate wrongdoing.
No Voter Is an Island
As the Florida election mess amply demonstrated, the litany that every citizen has the right to vote is a joke. In an article last week, the Los Angeles Times described some of the ways the United States systematically denies people the vote.
In New York City, metal-lever voting machines — each one containing 27,000 parts — are so old they are no longer made. Similar machines in Louisiana can be rigged with a screwdriver, pliers, and a cigarette lighter. “In Texas ‘vote whores’ do favors for people in return for absentee ballots. Sometimes canvassers or consultants, as they prefer to be called, simply buy the ballots. Failing all else, they steal them from mailboxes,” the paper reports.
There are more people registered to vote in Alaska than there are people of voting age. In supposedly advanced Oregon, more than 36,000 voters sent in ballots signed by someone else. Students in Wisconsin claim they voted four times. In Louisiana, the former elections commissioner pleaded guilty recently to a kickback scheme with a voting-machine dealer. And in New York City a dumbfounded Voice reader wrote in saying he had witnessed election officials in Brooklyn snoozing while four people crowded into a voting booth, each voting twice.
Censoring the Census Bureau?
Despite the voting mess, there is little interest in making sure people of voting age get a chance to cast a ballot. In fact, the drive to extend the voting franchise likely will reach another impasse early in the Bush administration, when Republicans try to block a counting method that would include large numbers of minority citizens in the reapportionment and redistricting process.
Population counts are made by the Census Bureau. But because the Bureau’s count is likely to be less than the actual population, it will release a second set of population numbers in early 2001, which will be scientifically adjusted for this undercount.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the raw-count numbers must be used in reapportionment — i.e., determining how many congressional seats a state has — but it left open the possibility that the scientifically adjusted numbers, arrived at under a method endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, could be used for state legislative redistricting: redrawing actual district lines in accordance with the population.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and other groups argue that the scientifically adjusted numbers are more accurate when it comes to counting minority populations and hence offer greater assurance that the rights of these voters will be protected in the redistricting process.
Under an administrative rule promulgated by the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, the decision to release the second set of figures will be made by Bureau professionals in mid-February. But the Bush White House could overturn any Bureau decision. And there is a very good chance the new president will do just that. Already five states with Republican governors and legislatures — Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, Virginia, and Kansas — have enacted laws banning the use of the scientifically adjusted figures. In Virginia, Alaska, and Arizona, the Justice Department has intervened under the Voting Rights Act, and is asking why they should not be required to use the adjusted numbers under federal law. Virginia has gone to court against the government twice and lost both times.
If Bush overturns the Bureau’s decision, the country will be confronted with yet another device to deny the democratic process to all citizens.
Bush-Cheney Ready to Rumble
Many factors are combining to make oil the central focus of Bush administration foreign and economic priorities. The rising price of oil can rapidly set off cascading inflation, which in turn could lead to a recession. For Bush such a situation carries a threat and an opportunity, since in these circumstances he can argue for acceptance of a broad, across-the-board tax cut for economic stimulus.
There are other implications. The high prices result in part because of a reliance on foreign sources and a belief — held by at least certain geologists — that the world is using up its limited petroleum resources. The result ought to be a concerted drive to develop alternative sources of energy. But politicians in both parties see it as an argument for drilling for more oil in the Gulf of Mexico, along the outer continental shelf on both coasts, and in the far north, including the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. However, it also means more exploration in the Middle East, where the really big known remaining resources are located. More dependence on foreign oil inevitably means enlarging the American police force that now is stationed around the Gulf.
Oil shortages and high prices will be most damaging in Asia, where whole nations have been turned into factories for the West. Because our economies are intertwined and our companies have major stakes in the region, we must increasingly view the protection of Asian sea lanes as important; hence the region has once more become a U.S. sphere of interest. That means dealing with China.
“I am firmly convinced that we need to focus all elements of U.S. power and diplomacy on ensuring that China does not become the 21st-century version of the Soviet bear,” General Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during his speech last Thursday to the National Press Club. “China takes a distrustful view of the United States’ intentions,” he continued, noting that China views the U.S. as a global menace and threat to peace. “They are aggressively modernizing their military forces, both conventional as well as nuclear, ” said the general, who will remain in office during the key early stages of the Bush administration. His tenure is up in September.
Katherine the Great
The most demonized woman in recent U.S. political history, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, has become such a hot property that she may run for retiring Republican congressman Dan Miller’s seat in the heavily Republican Sarasota area. “She has become an icon with the base of the Republican Party,” Al Cardenas, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, told the Miami Herald.
Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Theresa Crapanzano