Will Reality Set In?

As we begin the second session of the 110th Congress today, Republicans will do our part by ensuring, as we did last year, that onerous or dangerous laws stay on the shelf, while working to enact needed security and economic policy to keep the country strong.

When the Democratic majority adopted a winner-take-all approach last year, Republicans held together. Senate Democrats tried again and again to pass partisan legislation while ignoring our input. They failed.

Partisanship was strongest on issues of national security. By the end of the year, the Majority had held 34 votes related to the war in Iraq and its opposition to the Petraeus Plan. Yet whenever Republicans defended the view that Congress should not substitute its military judgment for the judgment of our military commanders or cut off funds for troops in the field, we prevailed.

But after 11 months of trying to cut funds for troops, weaken our intelligence programs and adding deficit spending, Democrats changed their tactics. They included Republicans in the debate and succeeded in passing funds for the troops, a spending bill that met the President’s top budget line, averting a middle class tax hike and passage of an energy conservation bill without raising utility rates or increasing taxes.

As we move into 2008, the problems we face are big, they’re real, and they’re urgent. And Americans expect competence, cooperation, and results. It’s in our power to deliver. And it’s in everyone’s interests that we do.

Above all, we need to come together to protect and defend Americans. We also need to come together to meet the economic challenges of our country. And we will need to come together to protect Americans’ quality of life by keeping taxes low, and by working to relieve anxieties about healthcare, tuition, the cost and quality of education, jobs, and the fate of entitlements. These goals have a common theme: protecting and strengthening America. It’s a theme that can and should guide us this year in everything we do.

Our first responsibility, of course, is to keep Americans safe. The best argument in favor of our current strategy of staying on offense in the War on Terror is the fact that not a single terrorist act has been carried out on American soil since September 11, 2001. This policy has worked.  And the Senate should affirm that the Petraeus Plan is working and renew our commitment to the brave men and women of the Armed Forces whose hard work over a number of years has helped change the story in Iraq in 2007.  We must continue to ensure that it does by giving those who protect us all the tools they need.

Beyond that, we should invest in the future of our military. This remarkable volunteer force is built on the finest training, weaponry, and education system in the world. We need to support this great national resource not only to retain our strength for today’s battles, but in preparation for the unexpected challenges that lie ahead – particularly in the Persian Gulf and in the Pacific, where our strategic interests will be challenged for years to come.

One of the most valuable tools in this effort is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which lets us monitor foreign terrorists overseas and react in real-time to planned attacks.

In August we updated this protection with bipartisan passage of the Protect America Act. Yet with only nine days to go before it expires, we need to pass new legislation that allows the intelligence community to continue its work and which assures telecom companies they won’t be sued for answering the call to help in the hunt for terrorists.

We’ll work toward responsible legislation to empower individuals and protect the doctor-patient relationship by promoting research into new treatments and cures and by investing in new information technology. We can also increase access by letting small businesses pool resources to get the same deals from insurers that big businesses do.

We should also be able to agree that too many judicial posts have been left empty too long. Last year we confirmed 40 judges, including six circuit court nominees, and an attorney general. But we’re not on pace to keep up with historical precedent. The average for circuit court confirmations in the last Congress of a divided government is 17. President Clinton – who had the second most judicial confirmations in history, despite having to deal with a Republican Senate almost his entire time in office – had 15 circuit court confirmations in his last Congress.

Building on the successes of last year, Republicans are eager and prepared for another strong session. Despite our minority status, we’ve proven ourselves equal to the task. Democrats can take the lessons of last year, work with Republicans and shed partisan or risky legislation. Or they can spend their time they way they did early last year.
But there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. Let’s not waste time in 2008 relearning the lessons of 2007.