Dunsmore: Rumors greatly exaggerated

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(HOST) With Democrats in control of the Congress and the White House, there has been much media handwringing about the fate of the Republican Party. This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us that the demise of the Republicans has been greatly exaggerated.

(DUNSMORE) On paper, President Barack Obama should be able to get his agenda through Congress without having to sacrifice fundamental aspects of his programs. But, as sportscasters are fond of saying – these contests are not decided on paper – that’s why we play the games.

There are some very serious games that are being played out these days in Washington – on a range of issues of great importance to the future of this country. And, although Republicans are a distinct minority in both Houses, they are regularly defining the debate – and in some cases the final form of the legislation that is ultimately passed.

Much of their power springs from the arcane rules of the Senate, where, almost routinely now, sixty votes are needed to preclude a minority filibuster. Perhaps, one day, if the Republican Party ever concedes defeat in the Minnesota Senate race – which they probably won’t until they’ve gone to the Supreme Court, which may take many more months – the Democrats might be able to muster 60 votes. But even then, a cadre of conservative Democratic senators has been gaining strength – in part because of the fear of a filibuster.

As a result, Obama’s climate change agenda is being pared down by those conservative Democrats.  Meantime, Republicans in the Senate managed to insert into the Credit Card reform bill, a provision to allow people to carry concealed hand guns in national parks. As for health care reform, this is being significantly shaped in committee by Republican Senator Charles Grassley, who, like his party, opposes the creation of a government option for health insurance.

In the broader political context, Republicans are also increasingly scoring points. On torture, they have been able to shift the debate from their party’s support for techniques widely viewed as torture – to why Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t try to stop it when she was secretly briefed on the matter back in 2002. In other words, it wasn’t torture, but, if it was, it’s her fault.

But most significantly, Republicans have once again been able to exploit Democratic fears of being seen as soft on national security. Thus, Republicans led the way in House and Senate votes this week to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo Bay – while at the same time they have vastly overstated the dangers of having convicted terrorists put into high security prisons anywhere in the country. Ninety senators signed on, and even a tough combat veteran like Democratic Senator James Webb of Virginia has capitulated by vowing no terrorists will be confined in his state. This lack of political courage could make closing Guantanamo impossible.

In back-to-back speeches on national security yesterday by President Obama and former Vice President Cheney. Obama appealed to the American people’s better angels –  Cheney stoked their irrational fears.  After the history of the past eight years, it ought to be clear where appeals to fear have led this country. That makes it even more remarkable that Republican scare tactics are once again effectively working in the Congress.

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