After one year in power in Congress, Dems don’t get much done

Published on McClatchy Newspapers, by Margaret Talev and Renee Schoof, December 19, 2007.

WASHINGTON �-Democrats won control of both houses of Congress in a stunning 2006 election victory by vowing to wind down the Iraq war, marginalize President Bush, enact their agenda and revive bipartisanship.

But after a year in power, their “mission accomplished” list is thin. They’re constrained by three factors:

  • A majority that’s too slim to break party-line filibusters in the Senate or override presidential vetoes;
  • Republican lawmakers’ willingness to stick by the White House most of the time;
  • And divisions among themselves over how far to go in opposing the war or changing how deals get done on Capitol Hill.

“Once the Democrats do something about the war that’s effective and not what Bush wants, then they become responsible for the consequences,” said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California in San Diego. “And since it’s still hard to see good consequences coming out of the war, it’s very risky for them” …

… Democrats have used their newfound power to investigate Bush, including launching an inquiry into the politicization of the Justice Department, which led to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ resignation. And their majority has stopped Bush from pursuing new fronts on Social Security, tax cuts or social conservatives’ agenda.

But as for pledges to encourage bipartisanship, Republicans say that Democrats have limited their ability to study major legislation until only hours before votes – just as Democrats complained the Republicans did when they were in charge.

Democrats did get Republicans to support an ethics bill that promises to increase lobbyist disclosure and curb perks such as free meals and special-interest airplane travel.

But when it comes to earmarks – federal spending for pet projects tucked into spending bills – critics said their revisions were loophole-ridden.

Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the fiscally conservative Heritage Foundation policy institute, said congressional Democrats had “brazenly ignored their pledge to the American people to cut earmarks in half,” instead including more than 11,000 this year. Eliminating those, he said, could have saved $20 billion.


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