President Barack Obama charged into his presidency full of enthusiasm for plans to staff his cabinet with worthies, stimulate the economy, revise fiscal policies and eliminate wasteful government spending through earmarked amendments. Spending watchdogs noted that in the first presidential debate Obama said, “We need earmark reform, and when I am President I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.”
• Normal Congressional activities came to a screeching halt in late September and early October as the legislature turned its attention to deciding what to do about the nation’s financial crisis. A lot of midnight oil was burned by a host of instant money experts. First the House rejected a $700 billion bill, then the Senate worked out a compromise, passed that bill and sent it on to the House, where it was accepted and passed.
• While Congress was on a five-week recess from August to September, the process for nominating presidential candidates (Senators John McCain and Barack Obama) took over the news headlines and focused attention on the coming election. As the campaign heated up and gathered steam, there were ever more promises as to what each candidate, if elected, would do by way of new programs and legislation.
• Congress took an eight-day break to celebrate the Fourth of July. However, the Senate continued its pro forma sessions to prevent President Bush making recess appointments from a long waiting list. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) instituted these proceedings early in this session so that Bush’s nominees would have to be submitted to the Senate for a vote of approval.
Congress resumed business early last month after an 11-day hiatus and took note of the to-do list President Bush outlined in his weekly radio address. That list included a war funding bill, intelligence legislation, veterans’ benefits and a free-trade pact. However, the Senate first debated the Climate Security Act sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.).
A resolute President Bush may go down swinging as he finishes his term in office. In a recent Rose Garden speech he outlined his plans to combat skyrocketing energy costs by drilling for oil in Alaska, adding more refineries in the U.S. and building more nuclear plants. Those and other Bush proposals have not fared well as the Democrat-majority Congress appeared to be content to wait until after the November elections to act.
As the first session of the 107th Congress wound down, the wonderful days of bipartisan behavior that followed September 11 gave way to partisan bickering over what the country needed by way of legislation. Democrat leadership in the Senate lacked the inclination to press forward on bills related to economic stimulus, defense spending and energy and turned the Senate’s attention to a railroad pension bill and a farm bill.
• Congress recessed for a couple of weeks at Easter time. “Pro forma” sessions continued in the Senate. To keep President Bush from making recess appointments for a number of government positions, the Senate convenes and adjourns in a matter of minutes, thereby blocking presidential action.
• As Washington pundits predicted, the $3.1 trillion budget President Bush proposed for the federal fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2008, received a cold reception from Democrats; Republicans were lukewarm on it. This being an election year, Presidential goals are not necessarily those of lawmakers and contentious negotiations might not resolve differences by election day.
• Following the recess for the year-end holiday season, the 110th Congress apparently was in no rush to resume work on leftover legislation and to prepare for new business. The House of Representatives returned on January 15, while the Senate indulged in “pro forma” or “hello and goodbye” sessions until January 22.