November 5, 2007

The Incredible Lightness Of Being Congress

The Wall Street Journal takes a sympathetic look -- of sorts -- at the travails of the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress. Despite holding both chambers, their leadership appears unable to move its agenda -- and now find themselves with lower approval ratings than the lame-duck President they expected to steamroll after the midterm elections. Now they face the possibility of losing ground in maintaining their majorities, especially in the House:

The way in which Senate Democrats wavered and then consented to the confirmation of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general reflects the party's broader struggle to make headway on its national-security agenda, despite President Bush's unpopularity.

On questions such as Mr. Mukasey's stance on waterboarding, warrantless wiretapping and the war in Iraq, Democrats have been stymied by Republicans in Congress and the White House. That has sparked frustration among supporters, especially those on the left, who anticipated that last year's congressional takeover would force some policy changes.

These dashed expectations are one reason polls give Congress an approval rating lower than Mr. Bush's. The difficulties faced by Democrats on these issues look certain to complicate the party's bid to expand House and Senate majorities and regain the White House in 2008, a wartime election in which national security will be a major issue.

It doesn't help that the Democrats have overpromised and underdelivered. They apparently came into Congress under the delusion that the entire nation wanted nothing but wall-to-wall oversight hearings, massive tax hikes, and expanded entitlement spending. They discovered a little late that the echo chamber in which they existed didn't represent the will of the electorate, and actually worked against them in their new Congressional districts.

Harry Reid's declaration of surrender in May also damaged their credibility, especially when news from Iraq turned very positive over the summer. Reid and Pelosi got outboxed earlier this year, and now they have to try to sell surrender under much different circumstances. Reid's panicked statement of defeat has made him a laughingstock on the war, and has Americans wondering why the Democratic Party has become so invested in American defeat.

In other circumstances, such a feckless performance would result in both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid losing their leadership positions, and in the Democrats losing control of both chambers in the next election. That's not likely to happen, at least in the Senate. The Democrats have a large advantage in the next election, with 21 Republican seats and only 12 Democratic seats up for election. Democrats are almost certain to pick up more seats than they lose.

In the House, however, Pelosi may find the situation more challenging. Democrats won their majority in mostly center-right districts, and the performance of the Democrats almost seems designed to alienate them. With Charlie Rangel's massive tax increase coming on the heels of his Monument to Me, and with trends showing significant progress in Iraq despite the Democrats' attempts to run away, Republicans could take enough of these races to make Pelosi the Minority Leader again -- or retire her from leadership.


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