Hi-Ho, Election's Over, Back to Politics as Usual

GEORGE F. WILL

January 14, 1993|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON. — During the campaign Democrats promised ''change,'' perhaps assuming that ''change'' is a synonym for ''progress.'' During the transition they have proven that it is not.

Having promised a Cabinet that ''looks like America,'' Bill Clinton has cobbled together one that looks the way Americans fear that America is becoming: 13 of the 18 nominees are lawyers. Considerations of ''diversity'' (different chromosomes and skin pigmentations, not different ideas) have slowed the staffing of the administration, but it is off to a brisk start breaking promises.

The Bush administration's revision -- upward, as usual -- of the deficit forecast is Mr. Clinton's excuse for retreating from his promise to halve the deficit in four years. He calls the projections a ''revelation,'' although as early as August his campaign had the Congressional Budget Office's warnings about the soaring deficit.

The projections are also the excuse for scurrying crabwise away from the promise of a middle-class tax cut. But three weeks before the new projections, Wall Street Journal interviewers noted that Mr. Clinton was ''clearly lukewarm to his own proposal to cut taxes for middle-income families.'' He said: ''I don't think there'sanybody that thinks it's a very good way of getting the economy up.''

In September the Clinton campaign said: ''We should cut middle-class taxes immediately by 10 percent.'' The post-election position, stated by adviser Robert Shapiro, is ''no new taxes on middle-class Americans until their incomes are moving up again.'' That is, we won't take more until there is more to take.

Unless, perhaps, middle-class Americans own automobiles.

Candidate Clinton denounced as ''unfair'' a gasoline-tax increase. By December he was saying only that a 15-cent per gallon increase is ''a lot to raise in one year.'' By January 2, there was this New York Times headline: ''Gasoline Tax Rise is Reviving: Clinton Said to be Easing Opposition.''

The legislative branch also is behaving badly, again.

The Senate's Democratic leadership has made former Senator Wyche Fowler, theGeorgia Democrat defeated in November, a $130,000-a-year ''special deputy'' to the Federal Election Commission. Democrats believe the commission should have ordered the GOP to curtail its spending during the November run-off campaign that Mr. Fowler lost. He will recuse himself from the FEC's continuing consideration of that case, but the appointment of him is an intimidating reminder to the commission of the Senate majority's power.

The House has hit the ground running in the race to disgrace itself even more than it did last year with its bank and post office and other debacles.

Although 27 honorable Democrats broke ranks, the bovine herd of the other Democrats was large enough to pass the measure giving virtually full voting rights to the delegates from Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. All five delegates are Democrats, of course.

Even the bovine were so squeamish about this that they made it ludicrous as well as unconstitutional: The delegates' votes will count only if they don't count. That is, the votes will count unless they provide the decisive margin on an issue.

This abuse of power, done for no apparent purpose other than to advertise the majority's ability to do whatever it wants (until the courts cry ''Halt!''), was hardly the only example of the House Democrats' growing arrogance of power.

They have now given the speaker the intimidating power to arbitrarily add or remove any member from any select or $H conference committee. Worse, House Democrats, whose party traces its pedigree back to Jefferson, have jettisoned the principle that a committee ''can only act when together,'' a principle whose pedigree runs back to Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice.

Until now, a committee quorum had to be actually present when a committee is drafting legislation because deliberation is a collective undertaking, and Congress is, in theory, a deliberative body. That theory is mocked by the new rule, under which a ''rolling quorum'' shall suffice.

That is, a chairman can declare that a quorum necessary for drafting legislation exists when a majority of members has been present for any part of a session on the legislation. Chairmen -- they are all Democrats, of course -- can even be one-person quorums after enough members have passed through the committees' rooms.

The Government Operations Committee is one of the House's principal instruments for oversight of the executive branch. Last year, funds for the committee's investigative staff were allocated 90 percent for Democrats, 10 percent for Republicans. Democrats said this was justified because Republicans controlled the executive branch. Anyone who believes the allocation this year will be significantly different has not been noting the might-makes-right swagger of the unbridled majority.

Or noting the New York Times of Tuesday: ''And Mr. Clinton's staff has said in recent days that yet another pledge, to reduce the White House staff by 25 percent, might be difficult to fulfill.''

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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