Ready to clean House  and Senate  of GOP wreckers

WASHINGTON — The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is such a cliffhanger it has taken the national spotlight off an equally intense struggle: the battle for control of the House and Senate in the 2008 elections.

Then came the March 8 special election in Illinois, in which Democrat Bill Foster captured the Congressional seat held by retiring former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The victory in a rock-ribbed Republican district was seen as another omen that voters are angry enough to punish the Republicans with a landslide defeat next November even in their “safest” strongholds.

“Tonight our voices are echoing across the country and Washington will hear us loud and clear: It’s time for a change,” Foster told cheering supporters after the results were in.

Obviously the dispirited Republicans are getting the message from fed-up constituents. A record 34 incumbent GOP lawmakers have announced they will not seek reelection, virtually wiping out GOP hopes of regaining majority control of the House and Senate.

It reflects a massive shift in voter sentiment against President George W. Bush and his right-wing, corporate cohorts. Bush’s approval ratings are at an all-time low and the GOP lawmakers are now paying the price for their cowardly rubberstamp of his trillion-dollar-plus Iraq war, his trillions in tax cuts for the rich, and trillions in cutbacks to vital human needs programs.

Ocean of sleaze

The Republicans are still engulfed in an ocean of sleaze: Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), in jail for selling his influence to Pentagon weapons contractors; then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) forced to resign for his racketeering, the Jack Abramoff scandal that tainted dozens of Republicans. Just to prove the tide is still rising, Rep. Rick Renzi, a close confidante of fellow Arizona Republican John McCain, is now under indictment for money laundering and fraud over his swap of federal lands to a real estate developer.

Ohio Republicans were among the most corrupt. Rep. Bob Ney, one of Abramoff’s closest collaborators, is gone from office, serving a prison sentence. Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce announced her retirement when her crony ties to Abramoff were exposed. Corruption infected the Ohio Governor’s mansion forcing Bob Taft to step down when his ties to Tom Noe were exposed. Noe is the gold coin entrepreneur who scammed the Ohio Workers’ Compensation system for $50 million before he was caught. He was a GOP money-bags who poured much of the compensation money stolen from disabled workers into Bush’s reelection.

Expand the majority

Democrats won in the 2006 midterm elections on a wave of voter revulsion from the Iraq war to the ocean of sleaze. But the victory produced only a narrow majority. The Republicans have still enough legislative clout to sabotage real change. Now the 2008 elections offer voters an unprecedented opportunity to expand the majorities in the Senate and House of lawmakers promising real, pro-people change. Democratic leaders now speak of a 60-seat Democratic majority in the Senate and increasing by 10 to 15 seats their 32 seat majority in the House next November.

Republican veto tactics

The Republicans’ use of filibuster and veto has been highly effective even as they connive to shift blame for the “do-nothing” performance of Congress to the Democrats. This crew is so heartless they even stymied programs like SCHIP, the children’s health care program that enjoys enormous bipartisan majority support across the country. Bush has vetoed SCHIP twice and twice the Democrats fell 12 or 13 votes shy of the two-thirds supermajority needed to override Bush’s veto. It remains in limbo today with millions of children losing health care protection as state’s exhaust their SCHIP funds.

“It has been very frustrating,” said Tim Carpenter, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). “We have yet to get a real vote on ending the occupation of Iraq. We’d like to see Congress assume a much more aggressive role.”

One problem, he said, is “blue dog” Democrats who have sought to align themselves with the Republicans. “Blue dog” refers to more right-of-center Democrats on the political spectrum.

Progressive candidate wins

An example was Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Maryland), the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote to authorize the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq. Wynn also voted for a measure that stripped working people of protection from ruinous credit card debt under the bankruptcy statute. He also voted for the Bush-Cheney energy bill written by Exxon-Mobil and other oil profiteers.

Maryland voters nearly ousted Wynn in 2006, voting in droves for Donna Edwards, a progressive African American community organizer. This year, in the Feb. 12 “Potomoc Primary” they went to the polls and voted for Edwards in a landslide.

Her campaign was boosted by PDA and by backing from the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers. She is virtually assured election in November in her strongly Democratic district.

Edward’s grassroots victory shows the importance of electing pro-people, anti-corporate candidates, Carpenter said.

Increasing progressive representation

PDA has endorsed 11 Democrats so far. All of them committed to its “Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign,” which calls on Congress to end the Iraq occupation and redirect military spending to meet human needs.

Specifically, Carpenter said, “we are calling on Congress to pass HR-676, Rep. John Conyers’ single payer health care bill.”

Carpenter added, “We have candidates running in some of the ‘reddest’ Republican districts. We think they can win. We’re extremely hopeful we’re going to elect more progressive Democrats to the House and take back the White House as well.”

The AFL-CIO has its most ambitious ever Get-out-the-Vote plan, outstripping even its GOTV effort in 2006 when 25 percent of the voters were union members. The AFL-CIO is canvassing to oust Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Sweep out the ultra-right

In a PowerPoint presentation, “A Gigantic Battle in 2008,” Joelle Fishman, chair of the Communist Party USA’s Political Action Commission put the issue squarely: “To change the balance of forces and restore democratic rights, the ultra-right Republicans have to be swept out of the White House and Congress BOTH.”

She added, “The seats Democrats took in historically Republican districts in 2006 have to be maintained. More candidates who come out of labor, civil rights, and other movements are needed in Congress to swell the ranks of the Progressive, Black, Hispanic, and Asian Caucuses.”

Fishman’s PowerPoint, prepared before the record-smashing voter outpouring in the Democratic primaries, is bearing out in life. The overflow caucuses, plus long lines of voters at polling places, have outstripped all expectations.

That upsurge, especially dramatic in the Barack Obama campaign, has awakened a powerful multiracial movement to break the right-wing grip. It has drawn into its ranks millions of young people, first-time voters and independents.

She concludes, “The growing, independent, united, political strength of labor organizations can turn the tide with grassroots mobilization on the issues and get out the vote. That is the challenge for 2008.”