Monday, September 08, 2008

Reforming Congress

In his acceptance speech last Thursday, Senator McCain said:
We need to change the way government does almost everything: from the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children. All these functions of government were designed before the rise of the global economy, the information technology revolution and the end of the Cold War. We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington.

The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn't a cause, it's a symptom. It's what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you.

Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That's how I will govern as President. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.

Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn't think of them first, let's use the best ideas from both sides. Instead of fighting over who gets the credit, let's try sharing it. This amazing country can do anything we put our minds to. I will ask Democrats and Independents to serve with me. And my administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability.

We're going to finally start getting things done for the people who are counting on us, and I won't care who gets the credit.
The harsh reality, however, is that intransigent majority leaders in Congress such as Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Senator Reid, can and will oppose every good idea from a Republican President unless it is to the obvious benefit of the Democrats. Consider today's editorial from the Wall Street Journal, "Quicksand for Judges":

Since the beginning of the year, the Senate has confirmed a total of four nominees to the federal circuit courts -- including Democrat Helene White, whose appointment to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was part of a compromise with Bush nominee Raymond Kethledge. The confirmation of Judge Steven Agee on the Fourth Circuit was likewise the product of a deal between Virginia Senators Jim Webb and John Warner, displacing the nomination of highly respected nominee Duncan Getchell, who withdrew in frustration at the interminable wait.

And who can blame Mr. Getchell? According to the Committee for Justice, the average number of days from nomination to confirmation for circuit court nominees has risen to 348 days during the Bush Administration from an average of 238 days under President Clinton. Nominations by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan made it through in an average of 69 days each.

That sorry record has been overlooked in the media, which is good for Majority Leader Harry Reid because it belies his multiple promises. In a letter to us in June, Mr. Reid said Senate Democrats would "treat President Bush's judicial nominees with more respect than President Clinton's received from a Republican Senate."

Today that looks like a whopper. In President Clinton's final two years of office, a Republican Senate confirmed 15 circuit court judges and 57 district court judges. Merely to match that record, Senate Democrats will need to confirm five more circuit court nominees and nine more district court nominees when they return for a session that will only last a few weeks.

Even White House capitulation hasn't earned any Senate concessions. In recent months, the White House has repeatedly dumped "controversial" (read: conservative) nominees in favor of candidates who either came off the lists of home-state Senators or had otherwise garnered the blessing of liberals on the Judiciary Committee. Yet even "moderate" nominees like Glen Conrad on the Fourth Circuit haven't been spared last-ditch obstruction tactics. When Mr. Conrad was nominated in May, Mr. Leahy suggested the nomination may have come too late.
This doesn't bode well for Mr. McCain when he becomes President. His efforts with the so-called Gang-of-14 to get President Bush's judicial nominations through the Senate did little to improve the process overall, and were irrelevant once Democrats took control of the Senate again under Harry Reid. After the 2006 elections, Hugh Hewitt wrote:

From June of 2001 through April of 2005, the Senate's Democrats radicalized the nomination process, further dismembering a process already disfigured by their disgusting attacks on Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, and which had not recovered despite the GOP's rejection of such tactics during the confirmation hearings of Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer.

Finally, in April of 2005, the GOP's 55 member majority had identified at least 50 from among its numbers to confirm a ruling from the Senate's Chair that would have delivered on the promise of "up or down votes on the floor of the Senate for all judicial nominees," by declaring that it was not acceptable under Senate rules to filibuster judicial nominees.

Had such a vote occurred, a crucial part of the constitutional order would have been restored. There would have been political aftershocks, but the vast majority of GOP senators and, crucially, the voters and donors who had elected the 55, were ready to fight for this key principle.

And then Senator McCain threw the principle --and many fine nominees-- under the bus. The window dressing for this surrender was the confirmation of some fine judges. But, and this is a key "but." they would have been confirmed anyway after the vote on the "constitutional option."

The Gang of 14 did not even work in the term now ending. Many fine nominees who ought to have received votes under the "deal," didn't. They may never get them.

It is commendable that Senator McCain and Governor Palin are well-versed in bipartisan efforts. However, in order for McCain to fulfill his campaign promises most effectively for lower taxes, judges that won't legislate from the bench, and less government intrusion in our lives, he needs Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

Vote Republican this fall! Contribute to the GOP! Get active!

I'm supporting Mark Ellmore for Congress representing Virginia's 8th District and Jim Gilmore for Senate.