As Democrats now take control of the House and Senate, many wonder whether it makes a difference.
The corporate lobbies aren't going anywhere, and they started to hedge their bets by contributing to Democrats late in the election. The foreign policy establishment that led us into Iraq and continues to support a global economic posture that benefits capital but undermines work here and abroad isn't going anywhere. So, does it make a difference?
Yes it does, in ways that are big and small. First, the agenda of the country will change. Consider the six-point agenda that Democrats will pass through the House in the first 100 hours: They will vote to raise the minimum wage for the first time in a decade; to cut interest rates on student loans in half and expand Pell grants; to lower drug prices by removing the ban on Medicare negotiating bulk purchases; to revoke subsidies to Big Oil and put that money into renewable energy programs; to revoke tax breaks for companies outsourcing jobs; and to take common-sense homeland security steps such as requiring chemical companies to have their defense plans reviewed.
This is all common sense and all overwhelmingly popular. Yet all of it was blocked by the Tom DeLay Congress from even coming to a vote.
Second, the new Congressional majority will force the administration to face oversight and accountability for the first time. Perhaps the worst aspect of one-party rule is that Congress stopped holding the executive branch accountable. The result was billions looted in the reconstruction of Iraq, regulatory agencies simply handed over to the companies they were supposed to regulate and a lawless president checked only by the courts in his claim of having the powers of a king.
Accountability is vital, and exposing the waste, fraud and abuse that has gone on is a national service.
Third, the new Congress will force — has already begun to force — a change in course in Iraq.
Iraq was the major issue in the campaign, with the public voting overwhelmingly for a change in course. There aren't any good options in Iraq, which surely will be seen as the worst foreign policy debacle in the nation's history.
The new Congress also will challenge the country's ruinous trade policies that have turned us into the world's largest debtor and made our prosperity increasingly dependent on the decisions of central bankers in China and Japan.
This Congress will be more sympathetic to poor and working people and less beholden to the corporate top floor. They'll focus on investing in schools, not prayer in schools and on health care for children, not flag-burning amendments.
Skeptics are right to point out the limits. After Gingrich Republicans took the Congress in 1994, they passed the "Contract with America" out of the House, but it went nowhere in the Senate. The same might happen in this Senate, unless citizens organize big time to show that they want the 100-hour agenda passed.
But this election has marked the end of a 25-year conservative era. In January, the Congress starts debating progress again, not reaction. How far they will get depends on how mobilized citizens become. But one thing is clear — the direction has changed, and the conversation has changed. We're now going to debate how to get things done for the country, not simply how to stop bad things from happening. And that makes a difference.
Jesse Jackson is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.