Twenty months ago, Democrats attained majorities in both chambers of Congress (although admittedly only by the skin of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s dentures in the Senate). That was after — although not necessarily because of — presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the possibility of the impeachment of President Geroge W. Bush “off the table” in the weeks before election, saying in a 60 Minutes interview that it would be a “waste of time” and that making the Administration “lame ducks” would be “good enough” for her.
That part about it being “good enough” for Pelosi is probably true. After all, what could a lame duck administration manage to do in the twenty-seven months between the November 2006 election and the inaguration of a new president (whoever that might be) in January 2009? What could possibly go wrong? Or get worse?
As the House Judiciary Committee considered whether to impeach President Richard Nixon in early 1974, it prepared a report entitled Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment. One section of the report discussed the intentions of the Constitution’s framers and the purposes of impeachment.
A man who became one of the earliest Supreme Court justices, James Iredell, made this comment during the debate over the impeachment provisions in the Constitution:
[The President] Must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate. He is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives. If it should appear that he has not given them full information, but has concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into meansures [sic] injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them, – in this case, I ask whether, upon an impeachment for a misdemeanor upon such an account, the Senate would probably favor him.
This, at least, was the impression given in the years after the invasion of Iraq, not simply about the rationale for the war itself but practically every aspect of the conduct of the war. Time and again, claims by the president and other administration officials were exposed as false, yet after control of Congress passed to the Democrats, there was nothing but smoke and bluster.
In so doing, the Democratically-controlled Congress kicked the can down the road, saying that everything would change after “More and Better Democrats” were elected to the House and Senate (never mind that the Same Old Democrats in control of both chambers aren’t going anywhere). Meanwhile, anyone who’s been watching the housing market bubble over like an unwatched pot — combined with the uncontrolled spending on things like, say, the completely unnecessary Iraq war — the past few years could have anticipated that the economic chickens were going to come home to roost one of these days. It was just a matter of when.
Well, they’re here. Seven hundred billion chickens. Or maybe one point two trillion. Who knows? After the first few hundred billion you kind of get tired of counting.
This financial disaster has been a long time coming. There’s no doubt that the situation in the economic markets has increased in severity over the past year and a half, while both the administration and Congress have done essentially nothing. We’ll never know at this point if action taken a year or more ago might have substantially reduced the risk the American taxpayers are being saddled with, but it’s a reasonable assumption.
Last summer, Sen. Ron Wyden complained to the town hall participants calling for Bush’s impeachment that an attempt to do so would be long and drawn-out, and detract from the important business of Congress. I have no real illusion that an impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would have been successful, or even that a President Pelosi would have done anything different on the economy, but a Congress that wasn’t afraid to exercise the oversight powers granted to them by the Constitution (and one that was actually operating in the interests of its constituents) might have been able to head off this fiscal nightmare with a few hundred billion less, or even realized that the ten or twelve billion dollars spent in Iraq every month wasn’t helping matters one bit.