Dems’ basket of rotten eggs

Democrats in Congress may well leave for a five-week break without passing healthcare reform, as promised, on the floor of the House or Senate. The Obama administration has put off releasing its updated budget forecasts, which means more bad news will catch up to them come September. That happens to be same month the administration promised would mark another 600,000 jobs saved or created by the stimulus package that has stimulated nothing but bad reviews. Unemployment could pass the dreaded 10 percent mark by then, and keep rising still.

As challenges pile up for the Democrats, so does Republican glee. With dozens of their own centrist members struggling to hold marginal seats in the face of diminishing public support, is this the time for congressional Democrats to investigate a CIA program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders?

Sure, when CIA Director Leon Panetta rushed to the Capitol to tell Democrats they had been kept in the dark at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney over a program Panetta had just killed, it felt good. This brought comfort to Democrats who had backed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she accused the CIA of lying to Congress. And whenever Darth Vader is involved, why, unleash the dogs!

But it turns out the CIA worked in a thorough, methodical manner for eight years trying to keep us safe with a plan that was logistically unfeasible. It was exactly what most Americans hoped was going on — trained assassination teams hunting for Osama bin Laden and his ilk, backing up the drones that do this now. But since it faced too many problems, no agents were dispatched, and no targets identified. One former officer told Time magazine it was “little more than a PowerPoint presentation,” until they came to Panetta hoping to begin some training. Then it was time to tell Capitol Hill.

But Panetta killed the plan, and Democrats accuse the CIA of violating the law by failing to inform them. They will investigate both the program and “the way in which the executive branch discharges its obligations of disclosure to Congress.” When they do, Cheney and his daughter Liz, who plans to run for office, will hit the airwaves to mock the Democrats for killing an appealing plan to cripple al Qaeda and for playing politics with national security. The whole show will indeed sell Papa Cheney’s book, raise Liz’s profile for her future in politics and, possibly, hasten the departure of independents from the Obama coalition that is already under way.

President Obama has resisted any attempt to look back at the wrongs of the Bush era. And ironically, the inexperienced not-even-one-term senator who wasn’t supposed to be up to the job of commander in chief has had more success, or lack of failure, on national security during his first six months than he has with the economy, a domestic agenda or in foreign policy. So far Obama hasn’t been able to produce the kind of change he hoped for with Iran, North Korea or the standoff between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He hasn’t brought much change to his own party, at least not on healthcare and energy reform, and the economy threatens to cloud his entire presidency. But Americans give Obama — who has kept many Bush policies in place — support for his surge in Afghanistan and his withdrawal plans for Iraq.

Democrats in Congress should think twice about picking a fight they could lose with Republicans on national security. They shouldn’t risk further demoralizing the CIA by allowing partisan tensions to color congressional oversight. Right now their basket is full — of too many other rotten eggs.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.