Monday, October 08, 2007

Storm Lake Times To Harkin: 'What The Hell' Can Congressional Democrats Do?

Editorial writer Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times, a well-regarded progressive in northwest Iowa, led a spirited dialogue with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin on the Iowa Democrat's most recent conference call with print and radio media.

Cullen, the editor and co-owner of the newspaper, and a journalist Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Gartner calls one of the two best editorial writers in the state, challenged Harkin to explain what Cullen clearly believes is a lack of backbone from congresional Democrats -- particularly from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

At one point, the famously blunt Cullen asked Harkin this of congressional Democrats: "What the hell can they do?"

In fact, just moments after speaking with Harkin, a fired-up Cullen penned an editorial entitled, "Cowering Congress."

After the exchange I called Cullen and talked to him about it. Cullen views Harkin as something of a lonely voice and said his questions were aimed at drawing out the senator on the Democratic congressional leadership.

Here is some of Cullen's editorial:

As it stands, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans deserve support in November 2008. At least the Republicans continue to stand on principle, even if it is wrong. The Democrats have not identified the principle that voters handed to them. They need a spine, and maybe they’ll get one before it is too late. But we doubt it, based on what Congress has not done so far.

The following are some excerpts from the Cullen-Harkin exchange.

Cullen: Voters elected a Democratic Congress and if they were hoping for a reform-based farm bill they will be disappointed. If they were hoping to get out of Iraq they'll be disappointed. If they had hoped for a modest expansion in the SCHIP program they're going to be disappointed. And it sounds as if you might be joining the 80 percent of Democrats who are disappointed with the Democratic leadership in Congress ... Are you among those 80 percent who are as fed up with the Democratic leadership as the polls would indicate? Are you among them?

Harkin: Well I just know how difficult it is to make changes especially in agriculture. As I've said many times, Art, you know, this big engine of agriculture doesn't make sharp turns. It has to go around the bend and hopegfully we are bending it a little bit. I think we started a little bit in 2002 with green payments. We'll have a Dickens of a time continuing it. I make no bones about that. As I responded to someone who was diappointed in what we are doing -- the comments you just made -- is the answer to that to put more Republicans in the Senate and House who will go the opposite direction -- or to elect more progressive Democrats?

Cullen: Do Democrats deserve to be re-elected if they can't get us out of Iraq, they can't pass a reform-based farm bill, they can't pass an SCHIP program? What the hell can they do?

Harkin: As I said, one you only have a one-vote margin in the Senate, and that one vote is basically an independent. It makes it pretty difficult.

Cullen: But the problem's in the House isn't it?

Harkin: Not necessarily. Keep in mind also that we're going through a wrenching time of trying to get our budget under control. If we just emulated what the Republicans did for the last five years, and said "to heck with it, we'll just put it on our grandkids backs," we could do some things. But we're saying we're going to have a pay-go budget. We're going to tighten down on things. But the one millstone around our neck is still the Iraq war. When we're spending $12 billion a month that is a big millstone around our neck.

Cullen: Then on your central premise, you've got to get out of Iraq first to do anything else, why are the Democrats laying down?

Harkin: We've got to do two things: Get out of Iraq, elect a Democratic president who gives us a good Democratic secretary of agriculture for what we want to do and a president who has different priorities than this one. That's the answer right there.

No comments: