By Alexander Bolton and Mike Lillis - 10/04/12 09:00 AM EDT
Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) says Democrats will capture the House in November, but her troops don’t seem to be buying it.
With just over a month until Election Day, Democratic lawmakers, lobbyists and aides are showing little of the eager anticipation they had six years ago, when they knocked Republicans out of power.
Some of the ranking Democratic members of the House committees have a sense of their priorities should they become chairmen, but none has reported a serious effort to lay the groundwork for it.
“I wouldn’t say that there is any concerted work being done for the next Congress,” said one Democratic committee aide. “Too many of the issues we’re going to face in the lame duck could be in the new year, too.
“Really, what’s the likelihood of taking back the House?” the aide said. “If everyone knew two or three weeks out that Democrats were going to take the House, of course you’d have to plan for it.”
Pelosi says she does not care about the wisdom of Washington insiders, and is confident in her prediction from firsthand experience traveling around the country, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
“She says, ‘Let them think that; let the inside-Washington crowd think that.’ She’s been traveling, she knows the polling, she knows what’s going on,” said the aide.
Democrats point to polling showing their challengers in the lead or tied in 32 congressional districts, which gives them a shot at picking up the 25 seats they need to recapture a majority.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee argues its red-to-blue program could make Pelosi the Speaker once again.
"Just this week, the NBC/WSJ poll showed voters want a Democratic Congress instead of this Tea Party Republican Congress so our 53 Red to Blue candidates have absolutely put the Republican majority in jeopardy," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the DCCC.
At the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., Pelosi predicted a net gain of 27 seats for House Democrats in November.
“I’m out on the campaign trail. I see the enthusiasm of our candidates. They’re absolutely great,” she said Tuesday in a CNN interview.
But political handicappers say Democrats are a long shot to win the majority, particularly in the wake of a redistricting process that was largely overseen by Republican legislatures and governors.
Another Democratic aide said committee leaders are “cognizant” of next year’s agenda but are focused first on getting reelected and secondly on the issues Congress must tackle in the lame-duck session
“People don’t like to get out in front of [those things],” the aide said.
Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, who was an architect of the healthcare reform law, is focused on his race in Los Angeles.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicts Democrats are likely to gain between zero and 10 seats this year, and Pelosi’s quest to regain the majority is made more difficult by the likely loss of several seats currently held by Democrats. David Wasserman, an analyst for Cook, estimates Democrats will need to win 35 to 40 seats now held by Republicans to make up for those losses.
History is not on their side. The last time the party of a sitting president picked up more than 25 House seats was in 1964. Republicans failed to gain that many in 1984 despite Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection victory.
Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions subcommittee, said lawmakers are not preparing their legislative agendas for a possible takeover.
“I don’t think there’s an overt effort to do that,” he said. “We’re anticipating the president to be reelected and we’d want to set the agenda in conjunction with his plan.
“The president has not been very specific about what he’d do at the beginning of next year and part of that is the fiscal cliff,” Andrews added, in reference to the slew of tax increases and automatic spending cuts set to begin next year. “That affects everything within every committee’s jurisdiction.”
Six years ago, the Capitol was abuzz with excitement about a potential Democratic majority. Pelosi launched her “Six for ’06” platform, which she envisioned as the governing agenda of the new Congress. Newspapers blared headlines about a race between Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and then-Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for majority leader and a contest between Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) for majority whip.
In mid-September of 2006, House Democratic leaders passed around to colleagues their plan for what the party would focus on when in control of the chamber. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) circulated a draft of changes to caucus rules to eliminate ambiguities about seniority and leadership, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held a fundraiser at Bistro Bis featuring lawmakers poised for committee chairmanships.
Little of that excitement is evident among Democrats this year. Compared to the Six for ’06, Pelosi has unveiled a limited agenda. She says the House should immediately pass the American Jobs Act and then the DARE initiative, which is intended to limit political spending by outside groups emboldened by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.
Pelosi told Rachel Maddow last week that Democrats have a real chance to take over the House in November.
“There are 66 districts that are held by Republicans that were won by President Obama and about a third of those were also won by John Kerry. And so, we think there’s real opportunity,” she said. “Now, mind you, people didn’t say we were going to win the House in ’06 when we first made this attempt.”
But nonpartisan handicappers and even Republicans were much more bullish about Democratic chances six years ago.
Cook predicted Democrats would see a net gain of 20 to 35 House seats, and Republican campaign officials privately guessed they would lose between seven and 30.
Democratic leadership aides say comparing 2006 to 2012 is like comparing apples to oranges — or even bananas.
They argue that there is no need to revise caucus rules and hold meetings to craft committee agendas because Democrats controlled the House only two years ago.
“Most of the chairmen will be back. In 2006, Democrats didn’t know where the bathroom was,” said one senior Democratic aide.
This story was updated at 8:39 a.m.