Friday, October 13, 2006

Pelosi, OR Dems Make Case in SE Portland for Course Change

On the faces of Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Oregon House colleagues David Wu (1st District), Earl Blumenauer (3rd), Peter DeFazio (4th), and Darlene Hooley (5th) this afternoon at the Portland Impact Senior Multicultural Center in Southeast Portland, there shone a sense of restrained ebullience and energy one gets when success seems close at hand. As each Democrat spoke in turn, all seemed convinced that if only given the chance, the entire culture of Congress would change in the first 100 hours of the 110th Session--and that fulfillment of that chance was firmly within their grasp.

Packed into a subground room no bigger than 50x30, more than 100 seniors, union activists and media listened as Pelosi and the Oregon delegation were mostly careful to speak in terms of 'if' rather than 'when,' although Blumenauer slipped at least once in reference to "the Speaker" when talking of Pelosi.

There was a dual purpose to the event, whether by design or not. The seniors and activists appeared ready to talk Medicare and Social Security, and Democratic Party of Oregon notices seemed to bill it that way. Pelosi, however, was there to pitch the 'New Direction for America' campaign, built on two themes: a return to previous comity in both chambers, such as the reoffering of opposition privileges on bills and amendments introduced on the floor; and a specific "Six for '06" platform of goals for the first 100 hours in session of Congress after the switch. Part press conference, part town hall, the Congresspeople took the multitask in stride and interwove both focus topics into their broader narrative.

Blumenauer's introductory remarks played to his strengths as the courtly gentleman of the delegation, announcing the "return to an era of civility and decency." It was left to Pelosi to sound the charge in the "battle of ideas" in order to "drain the swamp in Washington"--a phrase she became fond of as the conference wore on. Pelosi pledged to "break the link between lobbyist and legislation," and promised no new deficit spending under the so-called PayGo system.

The Six for '06 platform seemed opportunely timed, in a remarkably similar way to the 1994 presentation by minority Republicans of the Contract for America. The GOP platform was delivered about a month before the midterm elections, and was initially only tangentially tied to the cause of the historic shift in Congressional control that took place that November. Similarly, the New Direction and Six for '06 plans may draw little pre-election support, but if Democrats make good on promises offered in the details, the historical retrospectives will look back to rollout events like today's as the catalyst for change. The six elements were:
  • a "safer America," vaguely but primarily indicated as a catch-all domestic and international security promise, hinting at but not quite saying the troops would begin coming home from Iraq
  • a "fairer economy," expressed in legislative terms by passage of minimum wage hikes
  • broadened educational opportunities, as suggested by "affordable" college initiatives
  • health care accessibility and affordability. This item won strong points with the audience when made applicable to drug prices and stem cell research
  • energy independence, including rolling back oil subsidies
  • and protecting Social Security, noting the spending of the yearly surplus and a pledge to seek to end the practice, something much easier said than done in practice
Hooley took the podium in response to plaudits from Pelosi for her petition to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, demanding the ability of the Medicare program to negotiate for best-price drugs. The savings would then be used to close the "donut hole" coverage gap suffered by many seniors on part D, and in addition the cost penalty to seniors for not having signed up for the program would be waived.

Hooley recounted her 12 town halls on the subject of Medicare, noting that her constituents were primarily "confused" and suffering from misinformation, but above all shocked to find their costs increased. Her example was the popular Zocor, available--through negotiated prices--at VA Hospitals for $130 per year, while costing $1,200 under part D. Hooley asserted that a bill to follow the VA's lead would pass if only it could make it to the House floor, and ordered the Republican leadership to "stop playing games with seniors' health."

David Wu, having locked Multnomah County Commissioner candidate Lew Frederick in a tight embrace before the conference, praised him during his turn at the podium for working with Wu in his crusade "against the Crips," (offering no other information on the cooperation). Wu's job at the conference was to augur for repeal of drug reimportation bans, using Rahm Emmanuel's model for reimportation from 18 'civilized' countries. His comments then shifted to a John Edwards-oriented riff on middle class economic woes, referring to the "lottery economy" and "NBA economy," as one where the superstars get rich, "and the rest get cut from the team." Said Wu, "People are behaving as if we're in a recession, because for a broad sector of Americans, we are."

To fill time until DeFazio arrived from Marquam Bridge traffic--to much joshing of his position as Surface Transportation Committee Ranking Member--the media were allowed questions. Picking up the spirit of the event, OPB reporter Colin Fogarty asked the first question: "Mrs. Pelosi--do you think Dennis Hastert should resign?"

Before Pelosi could fully back away from the question, DeFazio arrived, in a lather about what he described as "the most dishonest ads I've seen in my life," apparently referring to Mike Erickson ads criticizing her stances on Social Security. "Darlene Hooley is a champion of Social Security," he said. "There are only two programs that have a surplus in the federal government--Social Security..." DeFazio said, never naming the other one, instead reiterating that Erickson's ad charges against Hooley were "a lie." DeFazio had the most energy of the group, coming in late off the bench, and was the most explicit in his confidence for a strong result in November: "We're on the cusp of a new beginning."

Loaded Orygun asked Pelosi the question, "Assuming a Democratic victory in the House and even the Senate, roughly in terms of where the Republicans are now, it may be assumed that the Bush administration would seek to veto a repeal of its Medicare bill. What would the path be to achieving an override of that veto, given the circumstance? Pelosi's resposnse was "If we pass it on the floor, it would be too hot for a veto."

Virtually every Congressperson wanted a shot at that question. Hooley predicted that Congress could override a veto on that bill. Blumenauer commented that "you're going to find a dynamic that will be dramatically different" if Democrats take control. Pelosi then returned to the Hastert question and for the only time in the entire event, the mood turned scripted and parsed. She noted, "let's establish the facts and decide what the course should bebefore we say who should go."

That coded, tested, party leadership pre-approved answer aside, Pelosi then charged that the entire (Republican) caucus was responsible for "that culture of corruption," and gave Fogarty half a loaf: news had broken that Senator Representative Robert Ney (R-OH) would be sentenced on Friday, and Pelosi said in the firmest terms that Ney must resign his office immediately upon sentencing.

Bogarting the mike but asking darn good questions, Fogarty asked what new influence the Oregon delegation might have under a Speaker Pelosi. The woman who stands to become the first female Speaker in US history seemed ready to hand "3 or 4" plumb chairmanships to Oregonians, plus significant subcommittees.

To the dismay of the crowd of seniors, only one question from the audience was allowed, but someone did get Pelosi to comment on Oregon's Measure 41 and 48, eliciting the charge that the measures' backers are "not constained by money, truth or any sense of decency." The last question heard by this reporter was his own, of Hooley regarding Mike Erickson's ad claim that Hooley wanted to give undocumented aliens Social Security. Hooley jumped all over the answer, saying "I don't know where it comes from, but it's an absolute lie. It is ILLEGAL to get Social Security if you are not a citizen." Hooley's tone, like those of her colleagues, was almost pugnacious, born of emboldened confidence and the sense that righteous validation is just around the corner.