From the Reno Journal-Gazette
Give Rod Blagojevich credit. Just a couple of weeks after the Illinois governor appeared to be one of the dumbest politicians around when he was accused of trying to sell one of the state’s two seats in the U.S. Senate, Blagojevich proved himself one wily pol instead.
Opening Day for Congress, much like Opening Day of the baseball season, was supposed to be a day for optimism, a day when Americans could actually believe that change was in the air and that the members of the new Congress really would work together to solve the very real problems of the country.
Despite a warning from another very smart politician – Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, leader of the majority Democrats and therefore de facto leader of the Senate – Blagojevich appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. As Reid had warned, Burris’ credentials were rejected.
And, as a result, instead of the economy, Social Security, health care or some other critical national issue, Reid’s first crisis is a political one. The supremely confident – perhaps irrationally so – Burris promised legal action, and his supporters accused Reid of racism.
Nothing is more disheartening than starting the season on a losing streak.
The past couple of decades have not been good to Congress, which has suffered a handful of scandals, without the help of Blagojevich. Approval ratings have sagged consistently, below even those of President George W. Bush at his lowest point. These latest controversies certainly can’t help Congress’s image.
What really will determine how Americans view Congress, however, is how the members deal with the economic stimulus plan promised by Obama. Meetings with key congressional leaders began this week, and Obama pledged to consider Republicans’ ideas. Reid on Tuesday added, “We are in this together.”
The first test will be whether the members accept Obama’s pledge to bar earmarks from the stimulus package, now pegged at $775 billion, including significant tax cuts. Congress under both Republicans and Democrats has been unwilling to wean itself from pet projects in appropriations bills. Inserting an earmark or two into a bill that funds a slew of infrastructure projects to boost the economy may prove very difficult for the members. Obama must stand by his promise, and Reid must back him up.
Equally important, Reid and his House of Representatives counterpart, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., must honor their promises to work with members of the minority party to develop solutions to the nation’s problems.
It won’t always be easy. Some Democrats will want to barrel over Republicans to pass their legislation; some Republicans, bitter about their election losses, will try to stand in the way. But the American public is looking for leadership, not infighting, as the new year begins. It’s up to Reid to show the way.