With larger margins in the House and Senate, President Bush, Co-President Rove and Vice President Cheney have more than a governing majority. They have absolute dominance — or so they believe. They intend to use it. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital," Bush said. "And now I intend to spend it. That is my style.
"I’ll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," Bush also said. Trying to be healing and inclusive. But what’s left for those who don’t share in those goals? Who still believe in Social Security, public schools, the War Powers Act and some regulation of minerals extraction. They can, as LBJ used to say, "hunker down and take it, like a jackrabbit in a hailstorm." Or they can organize an opposition. Yet outside a few friendly think tanks, Democrats in Washington have few places from which they can effectively oppose the Bush program.
Perhaps just one.
A year and one week ago, I was in Washington, working on a book about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. I had scanned Roll Call’s daily bulletin and saw he would be testifying before a House Ways and Means subcommittee that afternoon. Cutting through the Longworth Congressional Office Building in the morning, I ducked into the Ways and Means Committee Room to get some idea of what I might expect later in the day. I took a seat, looked for the usual pack of reporters, and there were none to be seen. The House Republican Conference meeting was closed to the press, and their leaders were "whipping" the Medicare prescription-drug benefit bill. On the podium at the front of the ornate committee room sat Tom DeLay, watching the deputy whips work the floor while Majority Whip Roy Blunt talked about the high stakes involved.
It was more than the Medicare vote. It was holding on to their majority in the House. "You saw what happened to them," the whip said of the House Dems. "You saw how they became the minority party. Do you want to follow them into the minority? We need every member, including those on our right flank." The party’s survival, in other words, hinged on House Republicans hanging together when they walked across Independence Avenue to the Capitol. The Democrats had lost the House because they were internally divided. Several days later, the Republicans passed their $500 billion prescription-drug bill, after an unprecedented three-hour vote ended shortly before 6 in the morning. It was a demonstration of party loyalty that Democrats rarely achieve. (The Democrats actually won the vote for that bill, which the Republicans stole by violating the 15-minute vote rule and letting the clock run for almost three hours. And by engaging in unethical and perhaps illegal pressure tactics on the floor.)
Party loyalty, and the creative use of their minority status in Congress, is the Democrats’ best hope of slowing the Bush agenda and perhaps beginning the gradual process of returning to power. The Republicans became a majority in the House by using whatever mechanisms the institution provided — they even invented some — to expose the Democrats and offer up the Republican Party as the solution to the problems created by the corrupt, entrenched majority. In 1983, Newt Gingrich formed the Conservative Opportunity Society, a cabal of young right-wing Republicans, and took on the House Democrats. When Clinton was elected in 1992, they turned their attention to the White House. They never relented until they broke the Democratic majority stranglehold. They won the House in 1994 only because Clinton overreached — in his attempt to overhaul health care and his ban on assault weapons.
George W. Bush and Karl Rove are primed to rewrite the tax code, privatize Social Security, lock in the capital-gains tax reductions, the end of inheritance taxes and the tax cuts the rich Bush passed as temporary measures in his first term. They will push for oil and gas exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, the western front of the Rockies and the coal-bed methane fields in northeast Wyoming. Bush will put a proven conservative on the Supreme Court and continue to stack appellate and district courts with right-wing ideologues. And in the words of Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who does most of the Republicans’ big thinking, Bush "will shove tort reform up the Democrats’ behinds."
None of this is a state secret. It’s the talk of the town in Washington and grist for the daily press mill. Nor is it a secret that the entire Bush agenda will be shoved up the Democrats’ behinds. Bipartisan governance is now a quaint concept, the queer marriage of James Carville and Mary Matalin the only bipartisan accommodation left in Washington.
The expanded Republican majority in the House will drive Bush’s agenda and keep the pressure on the Senate, where Democrats still can filibuster. Texas singer-songwriter (and Guggenheim fellow) Terry Allen wrote Lubbock (On Everything). What you are about to see in Washington will be Texas (on everything). Like a cancer, the politics of the state that gave the nation Ross Perot, George Bush, and penile implants in executive health-coverage plans has now metastasized.