Democratic Congress should be top priority

As Nov. 7 looms, students looking for a way to get involved on campus should aim for an incredibly important goal: electing a Democratic Congress. This year, with Connecticut a major battleground, students have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to influence national politics in a big way.

This Republican Congress has been one of the worst in our nation’s history. On issue after crucial issue, the Republicans have failed to act. The congressional leadership promised it would address lobbying reform and overhaul the incredibly wasteful congressional earmark process; it did neither. Debates over immigration and Social Security reform were rendered meaningless when internal divisions within the GOP killed all substantive proposals. The Republican leadership refused to pass a minimum wage increase unless they could also repeal the estate tax to help multimillionaires. Congress even failed to pass a budget this year, its most mundane and obvious task.

This isn’t to say they have been a do-nothing Congress; that would be far too kind. After all, our legislators did manage to pass yet another pay raise for themselves this year — because it’s important that their pay, but not the minimum wage, keep up with inflation. And they took quick, decisive action on the matter of Terry Schiavo. When they haven’t been enriching themselves or distracting us with nonsense issues, they’ve been passing disgusting legislation like the Military Commissions Act, which guts the Geneva Conventions and all but legalizes torture. They’ve also been cutting student loans.

And then there’s the nearly bottomless well of GOP corruption. As we continue to witness the fallout from high-profile scandals involving figures like Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff, we must not forget that there is a clear contrast in how the parties have handled these issues. When Democratic Congressman William Jefferson came under investigation on corruption charges, House Democrats stripped him of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and the Democratic Party refused to endorse him for re-election; when Tom DeLay was indicted on corruption charges, House Republicans tried to change the ethics rules so he could say on as House Majority Leader.

This is no time to try to blur the clear and important differences between the two parties. This Republican Congress is out of control. We cannot pretend that the blame for these failures does not lie with the Republican leadership that has set the agenda the whole way through. When a party has failed so drastically in its duty to the public, when it has abused its power to such a shocking extent, it must be held accountable by the voters.

The three House Republicans up for re-election in Connecticut this year are a part of the problem. Republican Rob Simmons said Congress can debate Iraq, “but not in public.” Republican Chris Shays bizarrely claimed just this month that what happened at Abu Ghraib “was not torture.” Republican Nancy Johnson said in a debate that the No Child Left Behind Act had been “fully funded,” which is an outright lie. Their Democratic challengers — Joe Courtney, Diane Farrell and Chris Murphy, respectively — will help restore integrity and accountability in Congress. So, too, will Ned Lamont, who will fight against the “stay the course” strategy advocated by Sen. Joseph Lieberman and President George W. Bush.

A Democratic Congress will restore badly needed accountability and oversight to Washington, especially when it comes to Iraq. But it will also do much more than that. It will finally pass real ethics reform, raise the minimum wage and fix the broken health-care system. It will protect and strengthen Social Security. It will pass legislation to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil. It will increase student loans. When Democrats have a voice in government again, that voice will be heard in a loud and positive way.

To get there, we need college students, especially here in Connecticut. The Republicans running for re-election here are three of the top 10 most vulnerable incumbents this year, and polling shows all three races in a dead heat. It is no exaggeration to say that control of the House of Representatives might well hinge on those three races. By coming out to phone bank and canvass, students can make a measurable impact on those races, and in doing so, they can change the course of this country.

Yalies are, by nature, busy people. But we all find some time to get involved in activities we find meaningful. This year we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the direction of our country. We cannot in good conscience let it pass us by. Get involved now with the efforts of groups that are working on these races, such as the College Democrats and SNAP, so that when you wake up on Nov. 8 you don’t have to wonder if you could have done more. Instead, you will be able to enjoy the prospect of a Democratic Congress and, what’s more, the knowledge that you helped create it.

Brendan Gants is a junior in Morse College and president of the Yale College Democrats.

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