Where the Dems go from here

In the early weeks of this new Democratic majority in Congress, the press releases coming out of the House Republican conference on most days were, to put it frankly, desperation wrapped in drama. Things started smoothly for the new kids in town and Republicans, still smarting from their loss of power, stopped just short of accusing Democrats of burning down the Capitol.

More than half a year later the Democrats are having a tough time in the majority, as any party does, and Republicans are finally feeling some relief. Their breathless press releases are beginning to sound true. From the sidelines Republicans find satisfaction watching as the majority struggles without a veto-proof vote block to change the war in Iraq, the anti-war left roughs them up, the much touted ethical clean-up crew gets hanged out to dry by their own Earmarker-in-Chief Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), and bills the house passed stall in the Senate or at the White House driveway under veto threat. Republicans are comforted too by their new liberation as they untether themselves from years of unconditionally granting the wishes of President Bush and paying the political price.

For Democrats the months ahead are crucial and perilous — how to accomplish legislative goals without the numbers against Bush’s nothing-left-to-lose veto pen? And what can they push hard for before the presidential contest pushes back? They are likely to succeed in forcing the GOP’s hard on Iraq by September so they won’t have to own the war. But what else will they do? An immigration compromise is the equivalent of swallowing knives for the Democratic Party. Their plans to cut interest rates for student loans, implement the 9/11 commission recommendations, expand federal support for stem cell research, roll back subsidies for oil companies and force the government into price negotiations on prescription drugs are mostly uphill battles, and some of them are going nowhere.

Republicans will campaign in 2008 on having forced Bush into a new direction on Iraq, just as Democrats will. But they also hope to tell voters that Democrats sat around earmarking and accomplishing little else. Will Democrats let them?