The Washington Times
If you think that this Congress is attracting its share of criticism, you should hear what our predecessors were treated to. Consider this ditty about the legislative branch: "These hardy knaves and stupid fools, / Some apish and pragmatic mules, / Some servile acquiescing tools, / These, these compose the Congress!"
And which was the bunch of time-serving hacks that inspired those lyrics? The Continental Congress of 1776, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
From the body that declared our independence, all the way down to the present, Congress has rarely escaped the labels of deadlocked, inefficient, "do-nothing." Some Congresses, without a doubt, deserve them. But some manifestly do not.
I'd submit that this Congress, led by a new Democratic majority, belongs in the second category, the category of real and lasting accomplishment. Far from being the victim of deadlock, we are breaking decades-old logjams with regularity.
For 11 years, the minimum wage remained stagnant, while inflation cut its real value every year. We increased it.
For 32 years, unchanged standards kept our cars stuck at 1970s levels of fuel efficiency. We raised them.
To help with the skyrocketing cost of a higher education, we passed the biggest boost to college aid in 63 years. To confront a culture of corruption threatening to take over Washington, we passed the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate. And to support our veterans in a time of war, we approved the largest funding increase in the entire history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Add to those accomplishments a new GI Bill to guarantee a college education to all of our Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, strong consumer-product safety legislation, and a housing rescue bill to help hundreds of thousands of Americans keep their homes during this storm of foreclosures - and it's clear that the Democratic Congress is doing anything but standing in place.
But I'll still concede that, on several important issues, the American people want action and haven't gotten it. They want responsible redeployment from Iraq - but continue to get more of the same from Republicans. They want the State Children's Health Insurance Program coverage extended to 4 million currently eligible low-income children - but those children remain uninsured. They want more life-saving stem-cell research for the sick - but that research remains blocked. They want a comprehensive solution to record gas prices, one that includes both an increase in domestic production responsible drilling and aggressive support for clean technology - but the oil companies continue to reap billions in taxpayer subsidies instead.
Why? Well, there are natural deadlocks, in which congressional inaction reflects a public evenly split over contentious issues. And there are artificial deadlocks, created by small minorities and special interests in defiance of national consensus. You won't be surprised to hear which kind I think we're suffering from.
We're missing out on a new direction in Iraq, on health care for poor children and on life-saving research because of President Bush's veto pen. As long as George W. Bush or John McCain sits in the White House, there will be no real action. But that's why there are elections.
When it comes to energy, it's increasingly clear that Republicans made a strategic choice elevating good politics for their party over good policy for our country: vote down constructive solutions, exaggerate our differences on drilling and allow gas prices to remain high. Having presided over a failing economy and record debt, Republicans don't have many issues left besides a game of "Pin the Gas Price on the Donkey" - ignoring the fact that gas cost $1.46 per gallon when they took total control of Washington.
That is why they voted against legislation to speed drilling on 68 million leased acres (including 33 million in the Outer Continental Shelf), against more fuel efficient cars, against lower fares to boost public transit ridership and against renewable energy research. Those votes don't make sense unless they are seen as part of a last-ditch political strategy to keep the issue of gas prices alive until November.
Is there a better way to approach the energy issue? There's growing interest in a bipartisan energy compromise that would combine an increase in responsible drilling with a reduction in oil company subsidies, with the savings invested in alternative energy research. Whether that plan moves forward or not, the truth is that increased domestic production is at best only a stopgap solution. We consume nearly a quarter of the world's oil while, according to the Oil and Gas Journal, sitting on just 1.6 percent of the total world supply.
That means that next-generation energy sources are the only lasting answer. If we work together to create a new, comprehensive energy policy, we will find ourselves at the forefront of a new wave of clean technology, and our economy, environment and security will all benefit.
In the end, the 110th Congress will not be ranked with history's rubber stamps and time-servers; rather, it will be remembered for beginning the change Americans demanded at an uncertain moment in our history, for meeting pressing problems with serious solutions. And, before we end, we can adopt measures for a true 21st-century energy strategy. That depends, however, on how many Republicans are interested in policy instead of politics.
• House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, represents the 5th Congressional District.