- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

Could a Republican-controlled Congress pass a bill to protect the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance from court challenges?

No problem, especially if proposed during the patriotic season leading up to the Fourth of July, Republican leaders thought.

No way, it turned out.

The bill, the first item on the Republican Party’s trumpeted election-year “American Values Agenda,” could not make it past a House committee.

Even worse for the Republicans was that they could not blame Democrats. One of the party’s very own, Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, voted no. Seven other Republicans skipped the Judiciary Committee meeting entirely.

So it goes this year for House Republicans, their majority in jeopardy for the first time in more than a decade.

“We’re not having trouble,” House Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said. “This is your typical legislative meat grinder.”

But privately, many are frustrated. Democrats have pounced on the lack of progress with a “we can do better” election theme.

“I wish the election were today,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said last week.

An election-year session of Congress with little major legislation turned into laws is nothing new. Lawmakers traditionally are loath to vote on contentious legislation so close to the start of campaigning.

For some, debating proposals that have little chance of passage is a legitimate process.

“Passing bills isn’t the end-all and be-all of Congress,” said Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “There’s also some value in debating these issues and using Congress to air out issues that are important to the American people.”

Democrats ridicule as political ploys Republican decisions to bring up legislation doomed to fail, such as the constitutional amendments to ban flag desecration.

Republicans say Democrats are not above bringing up proposals just for political gain. They note that Democrats have insisted on bringing up a proposal to raise the minimum wage, which has failed for nine years.

With two-thirds of the 2006 legislative calendar over, Congress has passed and sent President Bush only two major pieces of legislation. One renewed the terrorist-fighting USA Patriot Act; the other extended $70 billion in tax cuts, roughly divided evenly between investors and middle-income families.

The legislative year is littered with failed or stalled Republican priorities. Some — such as overhauling immigration, repealing estate taxes and changing rules on lobbying in response to several ethics scandals — are disappointments for many in the Republican Party and for Mr. Bush.

The overhaul of immigration laws has become an implacable dispute about whether to give most of the nation’s 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship.

Rather than spend the summer resolving differences between the House and Senate versions, their chief patrons scheduled new hearings to shore up their arguments, with no resolution in sight.

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