Our democratic form of government as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution works best when the presidency, Senate and House are not all controlled by one party. While it's not spelled out, it's definitely implied. It results in checks and balances that keep a democracy at work by preventing the emergence of an autocracy.
We now have the presidency and both houses of Congress controlled by one party, and if the Republican lawmakers hold fast without any deviations, the country will be the loser. One-party domination -- whether it be Republican or Democratic -- permits the controlling party to dominate the national legislative agenda and diminishes the possibilities for the compromises that are so essential in shaping the policies of the nation.
Fortunately, there are sufficient moderate Republicans in both houses of Congress to place roadblocks in the paths of dedicated right-wingers who would take the nation down a path that would not be in the country's best interests.
The Republican leadership should understand their election victories were predicated to a large degree on voters feeling they were morally committed to support the president at a time when the nation appeared to be on the brink of a war against Iraq. Even with that major factor in the equation, many of the GOP victories were by very slim margins. The Republican Party did not get a mandate to ride roughshod over the Democrats and move full speed ahead on its own agenda.
One of President Bush's major agenda items is the need to make permanent the $1.35 trillion in tax cuts enacted last year that are slated to expire in 2010. Sen. Trent Lott, who will again be the Senate majority leader, said this continues to be a top Republican goal. For what reason? It will have no effect at all in helping the economy until 2011. Congressional Democrats have consistently opposed this move and should resist every GOP effort to make these cuts permanent.
The most sensible ways to boost the stagnant economy are Democratic proposals to extend unemployment benefits for the 800,000 who will exhaust their benefits at the end of this year, increase the minimum wage and enact limited tax cuts for business. These measures would have immediate impact.
One of the Bush proposals to spur the economy is government-backed terrorist insurance that could encourage many construction projects. The government would pay for most claims made as the result of terrorist attacks. Properly structured with rigid provisions to fend off inflated and/or phony claims, this insurance is worthy of close review, and could be put together in a package with the Democratic stimulus ideas.
Democrats have to hold fast to their convictions and resist efforts of Republican conservatives to minimize safeguards now in place to protect the environment. The energy industry feels it now has its best opportunity to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling. The Democrats have steadfastly rejected this incursion and must continue to do so. The Bush administration record on the environment has been less than exemplary, and opening up the Arctic refuge for drilling would encourage many other attempts to eliminate environmental protections.
An issue that both Republicans and Democrats agree must be resolved is prescription drug coverage for the elderly. It is a "hot button" issue that needs immediate attention.
The differences between the Republicans and Democrats on the matter are really not insurmountable. The Republicans want private insurance companies rather than Medicare to administer the program. Also at issue is how comprehensive the program should be. The Democratic plan is almost twice as costly to the government as the one the Republicans favor.
The prescription drug issue will continue to generate a great deal of heat, but ultimately resolution will have to involve compromise on the extent of the program and its administration. It's a priority matter for both parties and for all Americans.
Congress will have to cope with many other matters in the coming months. One issue that most likely will be set aside for future consideration would allow individuals to divert some of their money from Social Security into personal retirement accounts. Even with control of both houses of Congress, the Bush administration isn't confident that enabling legislation could be approved. The president likely would rather delay congressional action than risk defeat on one of his pet programs.
MURRAY B. LIGHT is the former editor of The Buffalo News.