Congress Takes on Iraq, Ethics and Spending
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.
For Democrats in Congress the formal celebration of their majority status and their new speaker is over. Now they're getting down to business. This week we'll be talking to Democratic lawmakers about their party and what it means to be a Democrat. We'll get to one of those conversations in a few minutes.
First, let's hear from our political analyst, Cokie Roberts. Good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: As we said, the House has got right to work with two big bills, one dealing with ethics, the other with money. Does the success of those bills mean anything for the future?
ROBERTS: Well both will make life a little bit harder for the people in Congress. One, the ethics bill will make their personal life a little harder; no more free trips; no more corporate jets. But much more significant for policy is the money bill, where they agreed to what they call pay-go: Anything that you add to spending you have to find something to subtract from spending. And of course that makes legislating a whole lot harder. But they're still likely to have a very dramatic week in the House with the other legislation that they promised to pass right away - a minimum wage increase and prescription drug bill where they'd negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, stem-cell research.
The question of course is where these measures go when they reach the Senate. The Democrats didn't really expect to take the Senate and thought they could pass a lot of things in the House and then blame inaction on the Republican Senate. And there is already a good deal of sniping about how effective these measures will be. There's some differences among the Democrats on that.
MONTAGNE: You know, it's still early days, but the Democrats appear ready to put the differences within their party behind them. Is that about right?
ROBERTS: Well I think for the time being that's right. One senior member told me that the caucus of the Democrats were so happy that a freshman said to him, gee, I've never been in a minority, but you guys are so happy to be in the majority I'm glad I won to help you out to be in the majority.
But there are a lot of problems here. Another senior member said to me, you know, we can't just put on our green eyeshades and worry about the deficit. We've got a lot of human programs we've got to address. So they're walking a fine line and many of the newcomers are more moderate.
The images last week were good for the Democrats, I think, with Nancy Pelosi surrounded by kids and going to church and looking like somebody that Americans can relate to. And the Democrats have been the very souls of responsibility and sobriety in all of their television appearances. So we'll see how long they can keep that up.
MONTAGNE: And the biggest question facing the party is the war in Iraq. Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to indicate that she might be ready to cut off money for military operations. That's a bit surprising. How likely is it that the Democrats would do that?
ROBERTS: That is surprising. She said a spending request would face the quote, “the harshest scrutiny.” And Democratic leaders have let President Bush know that they disapprove of a troop build-up in a letter they wrote at the end of last week. But other Democrats are saying look, we can't cut money for the troops or for the war. Joseph Biden, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, says he thinks that would even be unconstitutional having already authorized the war. He also is running for president, and that's going to affect what happens with Democrats. But he starts hearings tomorrow on the war and everybody is going to start investigating it. The spending for the war will certainly be questioned, if not cut.
MONTAGNE: Cokie, stay on the line so we can get back to you after hearing from one new senator, this senator from Ohio.
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