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Reason Alert: Congress' First 100 Hours, Iraq Surge Strategy

January 12, 2007

Bipartisanship or Gridlock?
Reason magazine asked political commentators across the country what they expect from the new Congress and the possible return of gridlock:

Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge, senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel and author of The Constitution in Exile: "George W. Bush, with a rubber-stamp Congress, has shown less fidelity to the Constitution than any president since Abraham Lincoln. At the very least, with divided government in the next two years, we should expect more constitutional government. The Bush administration, which has treated the Congress—on the rare occasions when it failed to act as a rubber stamp—as if it were merely a constitutional nuisance, will be forced to read the supreme law of the land, and to recognize and accept the equality of the Congress with the executive branch. With the Democrats in control of both houses, we can now expect congressional interaction with the executive branch to be more in line with what the Founders contemplated."

Ryan Sager of the New York Post and author of The Elephant in the Room: "When there's no one around to say 'hell no,' both the executive branch and the legislative branch get everything they want. And that invariably means more government—whether you're talking about pork, a new entitlement program, or radically enhanced government surveillance powers. The problem we may see during the next two years, however, is that George W. Bush is hardly a conservative in the first place. Most of his major 'accomplishments' wouldn't have looked out of place in a Democratic administration: No Child Left Behind, campaign finance reform, the Medicare prescription drug bill. If the president decides that his legacy depends on his administration's commitment to bipartisanship—and if the Republican minority in Congress continues to refuse to stand up to him—we could all end up feeling unexpected nostalgia for the last six years."

National Journal's Jonathan Rauch: "Divided government is back, and with it the check on ideological excess and political machine building that has been lacking for four wretched years. Both parties do better when each is watched and checked by the other. The Bush administration is going to have to deliver better results, which I hope will mean rediscovering pragmatism and flexibility. Democrats are going to have to govern, which I hope will mean rediscovering their brains. The result will be to improve the governing capacity of both parties, a welcome change after four years of bipartisan institutional decline."

Reason's Director of Education Lisa Snell: "The Democrats' No. 1 education priority is to expand 'access' to college — a goal shared by many Republicans. Democrats plan to further subsidize college by cutting student loan interest rates in half, creating a $3,000 federal tax credit for tuition, and raising the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,100, up from $4,050. This will continue to drive up the cost of college tuition as more 'free' federal money leads to ever-expanding college budgets."

The full feature is here.

The First 100 Hours Down the Drain
"The First 100 Hours have begun. (Lest anyone wonder why they aren't already over, new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi meant congressional working hours, not real hours.) We've seen Pelosi show exactly how much her own wonderfulness needs to be celebrated—and her grandiose tendency to think of herself as Mangog-like living embodiment of all the glories and splendors of her entire gender. But what of the Democrat's 100 Hours agenda, past celebrating Pelosi-hood? It's not worth the cannoli with which it was launched." - Reason's Brian Doherty looks at ethics reform, the minimum wage hike and other Democratic accomplishments thus far.

And the Porking Goes On
Reason's Jacob Sullum is completely unimpressed by this week's earmark reform bills: "...it's hard to see how the reforms adopted by the House could have prevented [Randy 'Duke' Cunningham's] graft, since they include an exception for just the sort of earmarks he found most profitable. Nor are the changes likely to stop members of Congress from trying to buy votes with taxpayers' money. The reforms rely mainly on greater openness to shame legislators into better fiscal behavior, and when it comes to pork legislators have no shame." Sullum's full column is here.

Is U.S. Strategy Considering Iraqi Priorities?
Reason's Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, finds a "recurring flaw of U.S. policy in Iraq: American plans are chiefly designed to influence the mood on the home front, with relatively little allusion to Iraqi priorities--even if it has become a habit to underline that it's up to the Iraqis to 'want victory.' As far as Americans are concerned, Bush's main hurdle in Iraq is assuaging Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats, but very few people have a sense of what the aims of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are or how they might end up undermining the president's 'surge option.'" Young highlights several problems with the current surge strategy, including, "Maliki will have to sign off on any decision to crush the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, the American's main quarry, which has been among the worst perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, as Sunnis are removed from their neighborhoods to allow for continuity between Shiite ones. The problem is that the prime minister, who is also the number-two man in the Daawa Party, came to power thanks to Sadr. Will he agree to alienate his main backer in favor of the wobbly Americans? Nothing is less certain." Young's full column is here.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's Health Care Plan
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his new health care plan this week. But Reason's Ronald Bailey says "instead of imposing more taxes on California employers to pay for his proposals, the governor should be at the forefront of trying to free Californians from the shackles of employer provided health insurance. Employers do not buy homeowners, life, or auto insurance for their employees, why should they buy their health insurance? And if you lose your job, you don't lose your car insurance or your homeowner's insurance. Why should you lose your health insurance? One reason only—ridiculous federal tax laws that allow employers, but not individuals, to purchase health insurance with pre-tax dollars." The full column is here.
Listen to Reason's George Passantino discuss Schwarzenegger's welfare reform plans on NPR's News & Notes here.

Video Franchise Reform Lowers Cable Prices
With cable television consumers frustrated by soaring cable bills and poor customer service, states are finding video franchise reform can significantly lower prices and improve service by removing the local monopolies that have long protected cable companies from competition. Two new Reason Foundation reports detail the benefits of franchise reform and outline how states can effectively author laws to protect consumers and spur competition that will drive prices down, improve service, and enable even faster innovation.
» Press Release
» Study: I Want My MTV: Reforming Video Franchises for Competitive TV Services (.pdf)
» Study: Better Prices and Better Services for More People: Assessing the Outcomes of Video Franchise Reform (.pdf)

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