- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

President Bush will not be on the ballot in November, but congressional Republicans are understandably concerned about the president’s falling approval ratings. Three polls conducted since March 8 have all registered their lowest approval and highest disapproval ratings of Mr. Bush since he entered office: USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll: 36/60; Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll: 37/58; and the Pew poll: 33/57. In October 1994, it is worth noting, Bill Clinton’s approval rating was 48 percent just before his party crashed and burned on Election Day.

Responding to Gallup’s generic congressional-ballot question, 55 percent of registered voters said they would vote for the Democratic candidate, while 39 percent favored the Republican candidate. The 16-point Democratic advantage reflects a 10-point increase since January. In the WSJ/NBC Poll, registered voters expressed a 50-37 preference for a Democratic-controlled Congress. That 13-point margin is more than twice the size of the Republican Party’s advantage in October 1994, the month before Republicans seized control of both chambers of Congress by gaining 52 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate. This year, Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate for control.

Given the current data and trends, it is not too early to contemplate the profound changes that a Democratic takeover on the Hill would mean. Looking at the leadership and committee chairmanships, today we examine the House. Another editorial will look at the Senate.

In July 1984, the Democrats held their national convention in San Francisco. The next month, self-described “lifelong Democrat” Jeane Kirkpatrick, whom President Reagan selected in 1981 to be ambassador to the United Nations, electrified the Republican convention by repeatedly blistering her radicalized party as “the San Francisco Democrats” who “always blame America first.” If Democrats capture the House this year, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco and whose district gave John Kerry 85 percent of its vote, would become speaker, two heartbeats from the presidency.

With the majority, of course, comes subpoena power. It is hard to imagine anybody who would be more aggressive exercising this power than three Democrats desperate to obtain it. John Conyers, who was first elected in 1964, would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. One of his campaign letters asks recipients to “[j]oin me to demand the creation of a Special Committee to investigate impeaching the Bush Administration for its widespread abuses of power,” including its “handling of the Iraq War and its warrantless wiretapping.”

First elected in 1955, John Dingell would return as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which he chaired from 1981 through 1994, when he was a master at wielding subpoena power. Under Mr. Dingell, Energy and Commerce uncovered the Pentagon’s $640 toilet seat; nailed former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver; and effectively ousted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Anne (Gorsuch) Burford after a war over the release of documents. George Miller, first elected in the 1974 Watergate class who later chaired the Natural Resources Committee (1991-94), would become chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. Mr. Miller famously defended his earlier use of power thusly: “People are sent to Congress to kick [butt] and take names, and I’m not going to roll over.” To nobody’s surprise, 12 years out of power haven’t mellowed Mr. Miller.

Also worth noting are other stalwart liberals: Charlie Rangel, who would wield the gavel at Ways and Means, which controls not only taxes but Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and foreign trade; Barney Frank, who would chair the Financial Services Committee; and David Obey, who would head the Appropriations Committee.

The last two years of the Reagan administration, which included Democratic-led investigations into Iran-Contra, were a partisan picnic for the Democrats. For the Bush administration, Democratic control of the House would constitute an ever-intensifying, two-year nightmare.

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