Pajama party was no yawner

The Senate Democratic leaders’ pajama-party strategy made sense, even if it did not result in the Levin-Reed amendment to draw down troops in Iraq — to be attached to the defense authorization bill — going anywhere.

By rolling in the cots, the Dem leaders provided a dramatic example to the impatient and vocal anti-war base that they were doing all they can to end the war in a legislative environment where supermajorities are needed to get anything done on contentious issues.

Even though the entire matter of sending more soldiers to Iraq comes up again in September, the activists — who expected change once the Democrats were in charge — don’t sit patiently for lessons on how the legislative process in Washington really works. It’s a hard message to send down the line that the Dems control the Senate but are not really in control on the big ones.

Besides some loss of sleep, Democratic leaders have a majority Senate vote to show to and their allies on Levin-Reed, legislation imposing deadlines for soldiers leaving Iraq. In connection with the all-nighter, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq said in a memo that and the Iraq Summer Campaign held a combined 155 “change the course” events across the nation.

The Dems’ strategy — short-term loss for long-term win — gives them some more talking points to buttress the message thrust that the Republicans are obstructionists. And each roll call — or threat of a vote — tugs at more Republicans who don’t want to be in a position of defending an unpopular, losing war. According to a memo from the Senate Democratic leadership, there are now seven GOP senators “who have recently spoken out against escalation and for redeployment, but who voted against changing course in Iraq.”

Over in the House, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) on Tuesday shared the latest Democracy Corps analysis of national polling with his members. While congressional approval ratings are low, Dems are not paying a particular price — yet — in part because of the perception that Republicans are “rubberstamps” for the unpopular President Bush.

“Despite low congressional approval ratings for both parties, Americans still say it is good for the country that Democrats control the Congress instead of Republicans, by a margin of 57-31. Democrats also maintain a huge margin in the generic congressional contest (53-41). Democrats maintain this advantage as much because of Republican weaknesses as our own strengths,” the Democracy Corps memo said.

Still, the memo ended with a warning: “It appears the most important actions the Democratic Congress can take to positively affect our approval ratings is to bring about real change in the country. The public is growing increasing[ly] frustrated with what they view as a failure by Congressional Democrats to deliver the changes that we promised, and which in large part led to our victories in November.”

The Senate Dems, with the all-nighter, and the House Dem leaders understand the dynamic between Republicans who, given the Iraq debacle, question the point of loyalty to President Bush.

Concluded the Democracy Corps analysis, “Importantly, the ‘Rubberstamp Republican’ label continues to hurt Congressional Republicans. Republicans’ failure to stand up to President Bush is a top reason for the deep unpopularity they continue to suffer.”

Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: