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Republicans Not Entitled to Their Own Set of Facts

The story goes that the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) was in a heated argument with one of his colleagues. After 10 minutes or so, the other Senator threw up his hands and said, “You may disagree with me, but I’m entitled to my own opinions.”

Moynihan answered: “You’re entitled to your own opinions — but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Democrats and Republicans disagree passionately on what this country ought to look like, and I don’t think that debate will ever end. But there’s no debating what our country does look like, right now — what the past eight years of Republican policies have done to it. Facts are common property. And heading into this election, the dominant political fact is serial Republican failure.

Believe it or not, pointing fingers doesn’t give me any pleasure. Voters can smell when we’re only interested in Washington point-scoring, or trying to distract from shortcomings of our own. But there is one legitimate reason to look back on the past eight years, when our colleagues had an unprecedented chance to put their conservative ideology into practice. We look back to learn about the best way forward.

This election season, who do we trust to make change happen? How much stock do we put in a party’s promises? How much credence do we give their predictions? The only way to find out is to check the record.

Take the economy. In 2006, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the “economic policies put in place by Republicans are working as planned to spur economic growth and reduce the deficit.” But the facts say 3.4 million more people are unemployed since President Bush took office. They say that this administration is one of only four in our history to preside over an average annual rise in poverty. And they say that Republicans managed to swing the Clinton surplus $1 trillion in the wrong direction, into record deficits, combined with unprecedented foreign borrowing.

Or take energy policy. It wasn’t that long ago that Bush was touting the Republican energy bill, calling it “a vital step toward a more secure and more prosperous nation that is less dependent on foreign sources of energy.” But today, Americans are paying for gas prices that are up 150 percent, while ExxonMobil just posted American history’s greatest quarterly profit.

How about health care? Accepting the Republican nomination in 2004, Bush said, “In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for government health insurance programs.” It was an admirable goal, overwhelmingly supported by the American people — but then the president vetoed the very same State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion that he called for in winning re-election. House Republicans sustained that veto, and because of them, 4 million children lost out on health insurance.

Foreign policy, too, is a story of failed promises and baseless predictions. As America began the Iraq War, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted, “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” Today that war has stretched on longer than World War II, costing us 4,155 American lives and some $600 billion, and stretching our military to the breaking point.

It doesn’t take a politician to bring all these facts home to the American voters. They just need to look around — at their rising gasoline bills, at their stagnant incomes, at their falling home values. Ultimately, I don’t think it was any argument of ours that swung the last election. It was the record itself.

Since then, working with slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, Democrats have built an impressive record of accomplishment. We implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 commission to make our country stronger. We passed a 21st-century GI bill to guarantee a college education for all of our veterans. We passed the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.

To confront this recession head on, Democrats passed a landmark housing rescue bill, an economic stimulus package and the first raise for minimum-wage workers in more than a decade. On energy, we boosted fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in more than 30 years, and we’re working this month to combine increased domestic production of oil with a serious investment in future energy sources.

I’m proud of all of those accomplishments. But more than that, I’m proud we’ve lived up to our promise of change.

In 2008, we’re asking for a mandate to carry on that good work. Republicans will have their own promises, their own slogans, their own newfound devotion to changing a Washington they’ve owned for eight years. But luckily for the rest of us, they do not get to have their own facts.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the House Majority Leader.

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