December 13, 2007

Do-Nothing Congress Divides Democrats

The Democrats promised a new approach to legislation when they took control of Congress at the beginning of the year. No one knew that the new approach would mean doing almost nothing and blowing off budgeting until almost the end of the first quarter of the new fiscal year. Democrats in particular didn't think it meant having the Senate undo almost all of their work while under Democratic leadership.

Now the Democrats have fallen into a public family feud, with members in both chambers bitterly criticizing each other for their failures. Here's the House:

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) accuses Senate Democratic leaders of developing "Stockholm syndrome," showing sympathy to their Republican captors by caving in on legislation ...

And the Senate:

Reid, in turn, has taken to the Senate floor to criticize what he called the speaker's "iron hand" style of governance.

And the House:

Asked about his decision on government funding, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) groused to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call: "I'll tell you how soon I will make a decision when I know how soon the Senate sells us out."

And the Senate:

"I understand the frustration; we're frustrated, too," Bayh said. "But holding a bunch of Kabuki theater doesn't get anything done."

And the House:

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) called it a "hold and fold" strategy: Senate Republicans put a "hold" on Democratic bills, and Senate Democratic leaders promptly fold their tents.

Hell, I could do this all day.

In the aftermath of the midterms, I noted that the Democrats wound up with the worst possible situation. They won control of both chambers, but with almost uselessly thin majorities. That's especially true in the Senate, and thanks to Joe Lieberman, especially so on the war. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid can push anything through Congress without significant Republican cooperation, and at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue sits a Republican President anxious to build up his repertoire of vetos.

Of course, neither one of them bothered to consider this in the opening days of the 110th Congress. Instead, they issued partisan broadsides from the beginning, and focused more on revenge through rules committees and shutting Republicans from the legislative process -- not an unearned revenge, it should be noted, but still politically stupid in such a tight Congress. The pair then spent the succeeding months wailing about how the Republicans weren't cooperating, after giving moderate Republicans absolutely no stake in helping Reid and Pelosi succeed.

The House, with its constant vulnerability, has tried being responsive to its activist base by passing bill after bill from the MoveOn/Code Pink agenda. Unsurprisingly, that won't fly in the Senate, where Republicans can stop the extremist agenda. Reid has tried half-hearted compromise, but the House has left little room for it on most issues. He's also tried silly "Kabuki theater" as Bayh put it, and that has done nothing but harden GOP opposition to his leadership.

Of course, Democrats in both chambers haven't helped themselves with their actions and behavior. On taking office, Henry Waxman promised nothing but investigations into the Bush administration -- and has produced nothing of interest at all. Pat Leahy still wants to gnaw on the bones of Alberto Gonzales months after his departure for the termination of political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the White House in any case. Members in both chambers put themselves on record calling an American military commander in the field a liar -- and then wound up with egg on their faces when events proved him right. Meanwhile, Democrats are now three months late with budget bills, the latest any Congress has gone in generations without the vast majority of its funding in place.

This hasn't just been a Do-Nothing Congress; it's been a Disaster On The Hill. Other than a minimum-wage hike that they had to attach to an otherwise strings-free Iraq war supplemental, the Democrats haven't done anything of note except to besmirch David Petraeus. It will be interesting to see how they can run on that record and expect to retain control of the House in 2008.


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