House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has been a disaster and the rest of the House and Senate leadership has not been any better.
The lean, ascetic, ideological purity of the Gingrich Republicans of 1994 had yielded to the corrupt, feather-your-own-nest psychology of the current Republican congressional leadership. They assumed that the partisan gerrymandering of 2000 left them invulnerable and they dipped into the till to get earmarks for their favorite lobbyists in return for contributions and free vacations. It’s time to get rid of this kind of leadership and to bring in people with a fine, tough partisan and ideological edge.
In the Senate, the problem is a little different. There the issue is not impurity but incompetence. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was not a man of the Senate. He didn’t know how to make the trains run on time. He was helpless when it came to using the tools and procedures of the body to control the floor and force action. Whether the Republicans are in the majority or the minority in the Senate, they need new leadership. Since Frist is retiring, they will get it in the person of Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, a partisan in the mold of a Newt Gingrich or a Phil Gramm.
But McConnell needs someone to run the shop and tie up the Democrats in knots with procedural moves and skillful parliamentary tactics. The man for the job is Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott (R). The Republican Senate caucus should make Lott the whip. As majority whip, he would make the Senate an effective instrument of McConnell’s and Bush’s will. As minority whip, he would stop the Democrats from passing crazy legislation and befuddle them with his maneuvers.
It’s time to bring in the “A” team again. The Republican congressional caucus needs leaders who put ideas ahead of patronage and who know how to get the job done. They need to reach back into their past and recapture the tough, raw partisanship that animated their return to power after 40 years in the wilderness.
The Democrats, for their part, will use their new House majority to plague the administration with investigations. While the left would be appeased by investigations into why we invaded Iraq in the first place, it is financial scandals that will do the greatest damage to Bush and the Republicans.
Democratic committee chairmen will examine Halliburton contracts in Iraq, royalty deals for offshore oil drilling, defense procurement scandals, and resource leases in national forests and wilderness areas. They will examine the nexus between campaign contributions and favors from the trough of the executive branch.
Immunized from congressional scrutiny by a compliant Congress, the administration has been getting away with pork politics of the worst sort and the Democrats will find sufficient fodder for years of hearings and investigations.
The last two years of the Bush administration will most closely resemble the Clinton years, where scandal after scandal after scandal battered the president’s image and ratings. But, unlike the GOP assault on Clinton, the Democrats will stay on financial issues rather than stray into the personal. The results will be devastating for the Republicans and their prospects in 2008.
To contain the damage and to develop a counteroffensive, the Republicans need good leaders in the House and to bring in a McConnell-Lott team in the Senate. Otherwise, a President Hillary will be waiting in the wings.
Eileen McGann co-authored this column.