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Excerpt: "If ever there were a moment for Democrats to press their political advantage, this is it."

The U.S. Capitol Building at sunrise. (photo: Jim Young/Reuters)
The U.S. Capitol Building at sunrise. (photo: Jim Young/Reuters)


Political Power Needs to Be Used

By Editorial | The New York Times

31 January 13

 

f ever there were a moment for Democrats to press their political advantage, this is it. Their message on many of the biggest national issues - taxes, guns, education spending, financial regulation - has widespread support, and they have increased their numbers in both houses of Congress. But after years of being out-yelled by strident right-wing ideologues, too many in the Democratic Party still have a case of nerves, afraid of bold action and forthright principles.

That's particularly evident in the Senate, which the party controls. Last week, Democrats had a rare opportunity to change the Senate's rules by majority vote and reduce the routine abuse of the filibuster by Republicans, which has allowed a minority to slow progress to a crawl. But there weren't enough Democrats to support real reform, so a disappointing half-measure was approved. The reason was fear: Fear that they might return to the minority one day, fear that a weakened filibuster might hurt them, fear that Republicans might change the rules to the disadvantage of Democrats if they regain a majority.

Similarly, fear is preventing many Democrats from fully embracing President Obama's sensible and long-overdue proposals on curbing gun violence. A proposal to require background checks on all gun buyers - the top priority of most gun-control groups because of its effect on handgun proliferation - is beginning to win strong bipartisan support. But Democrats from swing states - including Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader - are backing away from a bill to ban semiautomatic assault weapons, and it is not clear if the Senate will vote to prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Senate Democrats are not even united on the obvious need to raise additional tax revenues as part of budget agreements to reduce the deficit. Though Senator Charles Schumer of New York is pushing to raise more revenue through tax reform, Max Baucus of Montana, who leads the tax-writing Finance Committee, has resisted the idea.

Mr. Baucus, who has also expressed skepticism about an assault-weapons ban, comes from a state that supported Mitt Romney last year, as do most of the other nervous Democrats. It's true that the growing support for gun-control measures and for higher taxes on the rich is not spread evenly across the country, and that the party's majority in the Senate is precarious.

But senators have an obligation to lead public opinion, not to follow it blindly. Hunters in red states know full well that a semiautomatic weapon bristling with military features is unnecessary to bring down a deer or a duck. If Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who just won re-election comfortably, were to make that case, he might change a few minds, given his unquestionable support for Second Amendment rights.

If Mr. Manchin explained that such a ban was anything but a "gun grab," people would pay attention. Instead, though he supports background checks, he will not endorse anything further.

After four years of timidity, Senate Democrats say they will finally vote on a budget this year, no longer afraid to stand up for higher tax revenues and targeted spending increases. That is a sign of progress, but it remains to be seen how strong a budget will pass and how many Democrats will back it.

Politicians play in a rugged arena and are understandably obsessed about losing power. But that power needs to be used for something other than perpetual re-election. The next two years will challenge lawmakers of both parties to demonstrate that they came to Washington for a purpose.


 

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+5 # Allen 23 2013-01-31 18:19
It is being used, Democrats are merely the softer side of social control for the benefit of big business. Of course don't expect any truth from the NY Times.

Money rules and the Blue Team along with the Red Team are using their political clout against the people. That's what their masters put them there to do.
 
 
+9 # jon 2013-02-01 07:31
Fear of being outspent in their next election runs everything.

Until we get money out of elections, and restore the fairness in broadcasting act, there will be no real democracy.
 
 
+1 # Edwina 2013-02-01 08:06
It must be obvious by now which side the Democrats are on. (Hint: not ours.) The extreme right in the Congress are used as an excuse not to adopt "sensible" measures that would benefit us all.
 
 
+9 # visca Catalunya 2013-02-01 08:56
The most urgent and fundamental measures that need to be changed in this country are :1) Public financing of all elections, with every candidate and party having the same amount of money, and TV time (usually for 10-15 days before election day)to discuss and debate their platform. By taking big money and special interests out of the equation, true democracy would be best achieved. 2) While awaiting for the process of #1 to take place, Citizens United must be reppealed. The opposition to this, no doubt, will be fierce, but it must begin somewhere, sometime.
 
 
+9 # LeeBlack 2013-02-01 09:06
Brings to mind the FDR quote, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself". The elected representatives are supposed to be working for the common good, not working on their next election.
 

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