Quick Out of the Blocks—In a mode of efficiency unusual on Capitol Hill, especially among Democrats, the new majority passed their first 100-hour package of legislation in just 42 and a half legislative hours, according to the official clock on the House floor. Although the Associated Press counted 87 hours, it was hard to argue that Democrats hadn’t scored a significant victory, at least in time management. Just don’t spend the next 100 hours waiting to see if the bills actually become law.
Only two of the “Six for ’06” items—to raise the federal minimum wage and to pass new ethics and lobbying reforms—are expected to clear the Senate and be signed by the White House. President Bush has vowed to veto proposals to expand embryonic stem-cell research and to force the government to negotiate lower drug prices under Medicare—and Congress does not have the votes to override the president’s ink pen. The Senate is tepid on implementing all of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations; and Bush says he opposes rolling back tax breaks for oil companies and cutting student-loan interest rates in half, though he hasn’t indicated whether he’ll choose to veto these two measures.
One Letter Off—“We’re not looking for a fight with Iran,” Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns recently told the New York Times. But recent events point to a contrary reality. President Bush publicly threatened Tehran during a January 10 speech announcing his plan to send more troops to Iraq (as if one escalation wasn’t enough). A day later the U.S. military raided an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq and detained five Iranian employees. The Washington Postreported that such activities are now undertaken with alarming regularity. “For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents,” the Postreported. “Last summer . . . Administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran’s regional influence grew and U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing.”
The march to war with Iran is like that with Iraq, circa 2002–2003, on steroids. The State Department is clashing with hawkish aides at the Pentagon and White House; accusations are being peddled by the Bush Administration with little public evidence to support them; an authoritarian ruler who’s trying to develop nuclear power, he says, for non-military purposes, is being called the greatest current threat to world peace; sanctions have been approved by the U.N.; a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group is moving into the Persian Gulf. History keeps repeating itself, as Karl Marx noted, first as tragedy, then as farce.
The tragedy is all too present. Here’s the farce: The factions Iran is helping in Iraq, namely the Shia government and its allied militias, are the very people the U.S. invasion empowered. If America’s main foreign policy goal was to contain Iran, it should have kept Saddam Hussein, with his Sunni base, in power. Yet instead of acknowledging recent history, the Administration appears hell-bent on ignoring it. “Iran seems to be conducting a foreign policy with a sense of dangerous triumphalism,” CIA director Michael Hayden said recently. Sadly, so are we.
Inconvenient Timing—George W. Bush and Al Gore can’t seem to get enough of each other. A day before Bush vowed to “confront the serious challenge of global climate change,” in his State of the Union address, Gore’s prophetic documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, received an Oscar nomination. When asked last May if he’d see Gore’s film, Bush replied tartly, “Doubt it.” Perhaps he’ll listen to the CEOs of Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, DuPont, General Electric, Lehman Brothers and four major utility companies, who recently advocated mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. American business, with the notable exception of oil companies like ExxonMobil, is ahead of the president.
Bush talks like an environmentalist but still acts like an oilman. In last year’s State of the Union address, he famously declared that “America is addicted to oil,” then did nothing to kick the habit. Congress is not likely to wait for the president to clean up his act—or the earth. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has promised to introduce a “package of legislation” that would “declare energy independence” by the Fourth of July.