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Since both the House and Senate are enjoying August recess, there is no activity in either house. The White House also is on what the White House describes as a “working vacation” at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Like a boulder rolling inexorably downhill, the legislative/political process moves into top gear upon resumption of legislative activity the first week of September. Eight short weeks remain before the 2002 election. To allow Members time to campaign, both the House and Senate have set October 4th as a target adjournment date. That leaves much to be accomplished in one short month! Besides the basic legislative issues that have to be addressed, such as all 13 appropriations bills, they have also placed other meaty issues on their plate with the Department of Homeland Security topping the list. Not to mention the fact that Majority Leader Daschle wants to debate such luxuries as a minimum wage increase – this from the man who STILL does not have a 2003 budget!
The question both sides have to answer, however, is whether they will be able to develop any kind of legislative compass to find their way out of the morass and provide a path to the fall elections. Every year Congress rushes up to the end passing legislation willy-nilly in a final burst of frenetic activity. Yet generally there is at least some method to the madness. An overarching theme, perhaps or a glorification of some past success. Obviously, this is not always the case. Remember the 1998 Omnibus? But in a year of such triumph and loss, if neither party can find a way to touch the voter and truly stand for something, then both have squandered an incredible opportunity.
President Bush has attempted to begin this process by hosting a series of economic forums in Waco, Texas. Designed to get a "real" perspective on the economy’s problems and potential solutions, President Bush hopes that perhaps a mandate can be created. One which will crystallize our national problems, mobilize the American people behind a solution and create a groundswell of support for Republican candidates a la “Contract with America.”
The Republicans have seesawed between issues and messages, trying out various iterations of past success. One week it is education, the next tax relief, hoping at each point to find the mandate that they can latch onto and ride into November.
The Democrats already have what they consider to be a legislative compass to the fall elections. While not based on a single issue – their plan is based on a single concept – “it is the Republicans' fault.” It is the Republicans' fault that we don’t have prescription drugs and it is the Republicans' fault that the economy has soured or that the dog died. Add to that a dash of scaring the wits out of seniors by threatening their Social Security retirement and you have their plan. This however, is not a strategy and will only serve to keep potential voters at home.
Without a compass, we are all lost. Republicans try to promote themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility and then pass multi-billion "emergency" farm bills and pork-laden spending bills. The Democrats try to pass themselves off as the party for the poor and downtrodden and then leave Social Security hanging out to dry. While both parties engage in a race to the bottom, they hope the American people will walk to the ballot box with blinders on. Neither side has provided a reason for voting for it. Instead they choose to basically whistle across the graveyard. It is easy to see how this fallacy continues to perpetuate Inside-the-Beltway. Perhaps the only true reading of how miserably both parties are doing won’t be until November. But by then it will be too late.