William Butler Yeats wrote that "the center does not hold" in his famous poem, "The Second Coming", and Congress' new majority looks to prove it. The Democrats now face uprisings on both right and left flanks over the latest version of Cut and Run making its way to the House floor, and the prospects of passage even where filibusters cannot block votes appears very dim indeed:
Representative Dan Boren is a Democrat, but after visiting Iraq last week he announced a decision that puts him at odds with his party’s leaders: he intends to vote against their plan to set a deadline for troops to leave Iraq.
“A timeline, in effect, is cutting off the funds,” said Mr. Boren, a conservative second-term lawmaker whose territory covers the eastern swath of Oklahoma, from the bottom of Kansas to the top of Texas. “That is not the solution.”
His views have barely caused a ripple in his home district, but the House Democratic leadership has been working to keep Mr. Boren’s views from spreading through the party’s jittery conservative wing. At the same time, the leaders are trying to persuade liberals to support the legislation, even though it does not end the war nearly fast enough for their liking. ...
The consternation among Democrats on the left and the right has made the outcome of the vote far less certain than leaders had hoped, particularly after respected figures like Representative John Lewis, a liberal Georgia Democrat, declared his opposition, saying, “I will not and cannot vote for another dollar or another dime to support this war.”
In the days before the vote, Democrats said they were short of the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation. Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic majority leader, conceded, “If you are asking me, do I have 218 people that I know are definite yeses right this minute, the answer to that is no.”
The Democrats thought they rode to power on a wave of anti-war sentiment, but they have discovered that their victory had much more to do with Republican failures than with Democratic platforms. Most of their new members come from center-right districts where Democratic messages about corruption and abuses resonated -- but where they see Congress' role in Iraq as limited at best. Boren represents a typical Democratic pickup district in that respect.
Now that the Democratic leadership has gone on record as wanting to limit options for victory in Iraq, Nancy Pelosi and company find that these new representatives will not play along with them. The Blue Dogs understand that timetables represent nothing more than defunding efforts under another name. They will not vote for anything that smells of defeat and retreat, and their numbers indicate that the Democratic supplemental -- even filled with hometown pork for those on the fence -- will likely fail.
On top of that, the Out of Iraq caucus threatens the bill on the Left because it gets too cute with its defunding efforts. The Left wants a clean break -- complete defunding and an end to the deployment now. Maxine Waters has assumed the leadership of this faction, and her threat to withhold support of the supplemental would also doom the bill on just that basis alone. The Democrats have only a fifteen-seat majority, and while they may get a handful of Republicans to cross the aisle for this bill, they cannot hope to make up for the losses from the Blue Dogs and the antiwar caucus.
When the Democrats won their majority in November, I warned that the thin margin would likely prove more of a curse than a boon to Nancy Pelosi. In this case, at least, it certainly will play out that way. It makes her look ineffective and incoherent, and both antiwar and anti-corruption voters will scratch their heads to see a porked-up bill funding the war for eighteen months with ridiculous conditions slouching its way to the House floor, its hour come at last.