December 23, 2006 | Commentary on
Lessons From a 'Do Nothing' Congress
As the year ends and Congress transitions to Democratic rule, it's
time to review the most significant accomplishments of the old
Congress and ponder what lessons we can learn from them, and how
those lessons might apply in the new environment.
As a conservative, my list of accomplishments logged by the 109th
Congress is long on defensive "wins"-disastrous policies
averted. But let's start with the positive, shall we?
- Confirmation of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and
Samuel Alito. These two confirmations may well stand as
President Bush's most enduring legacy. Only time will tell whether
these jurists eventually tilt the court away from its tendency to
legislate from the bench. But at the very least, the administration
succeeded in adding two exceedingly powerful, right-of-center
intellects to the court.
Lesson: Undeniably qualified conservative jurists are
- Advancing the anti-terrorism agenda. The 109th Congress
began with reauthorization of the Patriot Act and ended with
passage of the Military Commissions Act. The former gives law
enforcement authorities the same tools for tracking down terrorists
that they've used successfully against drug kingpins and mobsters.
The latter overcomes ACLU-inspired legal objections to rigorous
interrogations of terrorists. In a September 6 speech, Bush
candidly pled for the interrogation program saying: "Were it not
for this program ... al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded
in launching another attack against the American homeland."
Lesson: The presidential bully pulpit can be
- Extending pro-growth tax relief. The 109th Congress
stopped scheduled tax hikes on both dividends and capital gains,
and passed a one-year tax cut on income earned and taxed overseas
(known as "repatriated income"). Combined with lower rates on wages
and salaries, these incentives contributed mightily to our roaring
economy. The one-year repatriated income adjustment alone produced
an "unanticipated" surge of more than $300 billion back into the
Lesson: Ignore the purveyors of class warfare. Create
incentives for economic growth, and it will come.
- The unnoticed and unappreciated House-passed agenda.
Many denounced the 109th as a "do-nothing" Congress. But that
moniker fits the Senate far better than it does the House. The
lower chamber notched quite a few achievements, including:
permanent repeal of the death tax; line-item veto; opening
ANWR and sections of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling;
eliminating regulatory roadblocks to refinery construction;
reforming the Endangered Species Act to protect private property
owners; requiring the UN to reform or lose half its U.S.
contribution; reining in the trial bar, and passing a border
security bill to enforce immigration laws and identify potential
terrorists. Unfortunately, all these measures died in the
Lesson: Voters look to the bottom line. They don't give
Congress credit for partial victories.
The remainder of my list falls into the "disasters averted"
category-a category that will likely constitute an even larger
share of my list two years hence.
- Stopping the Senate-passed immigration bill. Credit here
goes to the outgoing chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,
James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) and those courageous senators whose
floor amendments exposed the bill's more controversial provisions
and galvanized public opinion against what would have been the
largest expansion of the welfare state since the days of Lyndon
- Blocking the asbestos litigation bill. Sen. John Ensign
(R.-Nev.) successfully raised a budgetary point of order to stop
debate on this sop to the trial bar that eventually could have cost
the taxpayers as much as $695 billion.
- Purging pork. Early in the year, big spenders in the
Senate tried to attach $14.4 billion of unrelated pork to an
emergency spending bill for military operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan. But a sophisticated strategy that employed a
presidential veto threat, well-timed statements from House
leadership, and a firm letter from 35 Republican senators pledging
to uphold a veto convinced the porkers to try again another day.
That day came during the brief post-election session when pols
sought to attach over 10,000 pork projects to a year-end spending
bill. But when Sens. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.)
threatened to challenge each project, lawmakers jettisoned the
- Stopping welfare for farmers. Senate Budget Chairman
Judd Gregg (R.-N.H.) invoked a budget point of order to stop "the
first formal action" taken by Senate Democrats after the midterm
elections-a bid to give about 100,000 farmers $4.8 billion in
"emergency" farm subsidies. He prevailed by the narrowest of
The "disasters averted" category yields one huge lesson: When
principled minorities of lawmakers persevere, they can
"It does not take a majority to prevail," Samuel Adams of
Massachusetts once observed, "but rather an irate, tireless
minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." May keen,
conservative minds prevail in the 110th Congress.
Michael Franc who
has held a number of positions on Capitol Hill, is vice president
of Government Relations.
First appeared in Human Events