And they're off. Less than two weeks after winning control of Congress and a month and a half before they actually run both Houses, Republicans are already showing signs of the arrogance that prompted voters to spank them every two years from 1996 through 2000.
Some people never learn, and congressional Republicans are a case in point. Only days after this month's elections, the House repassed the Homeland Security bill, but this time larding it with perks for intimates of the Republican right. Count the ways:
If you're an American company that established a foreign address to dodge federal taxes, you're in luck. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, has inserted language that overturned a previous effort to crack down on corporate scoundrels.
Under the new measure, those companies will no longer be prohibited from doing business with the new Homeland Security department. That is to say, American companies that refuse to pay their share of American taxes can benefit from the country's need to protect itself from terrorists. Thank the Republicans.
If you're a pharmaceutical company -- an industry that contributed generously to this year's Republican campaigns -- you were just repaid with a provision that shields you from liability if your smallpox vaccination causes someone to die or become ill. That could be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Given the threat to the country, it is possible that some such provision is necessary, but if it is, why wasn't the matter subject to committee discussion or floor debate? What was the need for secrecy? Eight years ago, Republicans, then under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, were lambasted for allowing polluters to write legislation that governed their conduct. Something similar seems to have occurred with this bill.
After Democrats and moderate Republicans expressed outrage, GOP leaders said they will alter the special-interest provisions of the bill when the new Congress convenes next year. But Democrats are wary, as well they ought to be. Incoming House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has already backed away from the vaccine protection.
If those provisions weren't enough, Republicans are also floating a plan that would distort that mathematics of tax-cutting. What they propose is "dynamic scoring" of the impact of tax reductions, so that assumed increases in revenues from economic expansion are calculated into their costs. It's not an implausible theory, because such reductions can, in fact, stimulate economic activity that, in turn, increases tax revenues.
The problem is, there is no way to measure that impact. Republican are simply making it up as they go along. This proposal is a subterfuge, meant more to benefit the party than to educate the public.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voted with Democrats in an unsuccessful attempt to strip the ornaments from the Homeland Security bill. Republicans beat back the effort on the grounds that passage of this legislation was too important to the safety of the nation.
If it was, Republicans shouldn't have treated it as a Christmas tree to begin with. More to the point, if Republicans are going to show they have matured since 1994, when they swept Congress from the Democrats, moderates like McCain and Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, are going to have to exert more influence than they did with this bill. For now, though, this looks like the same gang that flubbed its success eight years ago.