What Happens Next

Now that the immigration bill has died, the next big fight on Capitol Hill will be over an omnibus appropriations bill in the late fall or early winter.

The Democrats have already signaled that they will not complete work on most of their appropriations bills, instead sending the president one big package, where he will have to take it or leave it.

It is unclear how much leverage the president will have in that fight. If there is a spectacular terrorist attack in the U.S., as promised by al Qaeda, he will have all the leverage. If not, the Democrats in Congress will have the upper hand. 

Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) comments on the Senate floor last week reflected where most congressional Republicans are when it comes to Iraq. They want a change in policy, one that is more defensible politically.

As the White House gears up for the veto fight that will surely occur this fall, they need to start laying the groundwork now for a unified Republican position that will be able to sustain the president’s veto, and win politically.

Part of that strategy has to be fiscal responsibility. The Democratic omnibus bill is sure to have excess spending that must be identified early and often by the White House and its allies. That will help get some Republican unity.

But the biggest fight will be on the Iraq war. Republicans have been helped by the latest terrorist attacks in Great Britain. Democratic complaints about torture and surveillance fall flat when people really think that the terrorists are now targeting the U.S.

That doesn’t mean that the Iraq war is suddenly popular. The administration’s basic communications strategy when it comes to Iraq has been “wait and see.” Wait to see how the surge is working. It hasn’t worked for most Americans, who lost patience for this war years ago.

If it wants to have a successful showdown with the Democrats in the fall, the White House better get together with Dick Lugar and his allies in the Senate and House Republican Party and come up with a better summer strategy than "wait and see." Float some plans to restructure the basic force in Iraq, to make them less vulnerable to attack. Rely more on airpower. Keep our troops out of the meanest parts of Baghdad. And by all means, keep the focus on al Qaeda and not on refereeing the civil war.

And start now. Otherwise, it will be a long, hot and uncomfortable summer for the GOP in D.C.