Although most congressional Democrats voted against last weeks resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force to disarm Iraq, they were relieved to put the issue behind them.
They had feared that national security would dominate the public debate and deliver the November elections to Republicans. They were right, but their hope that economic issues will be their deliverance is misplaced.
Congressional Democrats have compiled a dismal record on economic issues this year. With Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) at the helm, Democrats have obstructed almost every piece of economic growth legislation to come before them-all the while complaining about the poor shape of the economy. They amassed an equally miserable record on social issues-including partial-birth abortion, human cloning and welfare reform-on which a majority of voters likely agree with Republicans
Daschle led off the year for Democrats in January by delivering a disastrous economic speech, in which he downplayed the economic effects of September 11, but absurdly stated that Bushs popular tax cuts "probably made the recession worse." He then proceeded to block every economic initiative that emerged from the Republican-controlled House.
Daschle has paid a price for his obstructionism. A recent poll by Tony Fabrizio, taken among voters in this years 40 most competitive House districts, found that only 31% view Daschle favorably while 35% view him unfavorably.
Democrats have also taken a hit as a party-particularly on the economic issues they consider their strong suit. A Democratic survey conducted last week for James Carvilles Democracy Corps found that Americans trust Republicans over Democrats 44% to 39% on handling the economy. This new reputation could hurt them at the polls, said pollster John McLaughlin.
"The Republican leadership anticipated that Democrats would hug them on Iraq, and then flip over to economic issues," he said. "But theyre not getting any traction on the economy, because theyre the ones who killed the stimulus package and the permanent tax cuts."
In addition to seriously blunting the Presidents economic stimulus package after September 11, Democrats have blocked the Terrorism Protection Act (H.R. 3210)-a bill that would have a positive impact on the economy by providing a government guarantee for insurance benefits resulting from terrorist attacks.
The House passed this bill in November 2001, right after the September 11 attacks drove insurance rates through the roof. But, at the behest of trial lawyers, the Democratic Senate dragged its feet before passing a version of the bill in July that was calculated to be irreconcilable with the House version. Senate and House negotiators, predictably, have failed to reach a compromise, even though the bill would free up private sector money and create thousands of jobs.
Daschle also killed a House-passed comprehensive energy bill (HR 4) that would open new sources of energy, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Daschle personally removed this bill from Senate committee consideration, passed a worthless alternative, and sent it to a House-Senate conference committee that was sure to produce nothing.
Although House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D.-Mo.) is now calling for a very limited tax rebate, his Democratic colleagues in the Senate have refused to even make permanent the Bush tax cuts already in law. As matters stand, those cuts will expire after 2010. The House passed the Tax Relief Guarantee Act (HR 586) on April 18, lifting that expiration date on all the elements of the tax bill, but Daschle has refused to allow a vote on that bill in the Senate. Likewise, Senate Democrats have prevented votes on some of its individual provisions-the Permanent Death Tax Repeal Act (HR 2143) and the Permanent Marriage Penalty Tax Repeal Act (HR 4019).
Daschles do-nothing Democrats have also given Republicans social issues to talk about. In spite of House passage of the reauthorization bill in mid-May, the Senate has done nothing to extend the successful 1996 welfare reform bill, endangering the gains already made under the measure.
Using his leadership position, Daschle fought successfully to keep human cloning legal in the United States, and to shield his political allies from what could be an embarrassing vote. As HUMAN EVENTS reported (see cover story, April 15), Daschle repeatedly promised-and then delayed-a vote on a comprehensive human cloning ban. The House passed the ban in the summer of 2001 by a huge margin (HR 2505). President Bush endorsed the ban and, in a major White House address, pressured Daschle to honor his promise for a vote-ultimately to no avail. The same happened to a House-passed ban on partial birth abortion (HR 4965) and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (HR 503).
A number of Bushs judicial nominees have been similarly buried by Daschles Senate. As Congress prepares to adjourn, 18 of Bushs 32 circuit court nominations will expire without a vote in the full Senate, after twelve of the 18 were denied committee hearings. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) has actually killed the appellate court nominations of two highly qualified judges, but more often he simply refused to hold committee votes on Bushs circuit nominees.
And even as they scrambled to pass a resolution authorizing the President to go to war, Daschles Democrats continued to block action on a bill to create a new Homeland Security Department. Daschle threw a tantrum last month on the Senate floor when Bush told a crowd that Democrats were putting special interests ahead of national security by blocking this bill. But Bushs charge was accurate. Senate Democrats, in thrall to public sector unions, want to prevent Bush from having broad flexibility to make personnel decisions in the new department. So strong is the union pressure that Daschle may let senators go home without creating the department to secure the nation against terrorists.
Which brings us back to the economic issue-the Democrats secret weapon.
In spite of its few accomplishments, Daschles Senate did make history by failing to pass a budget resolution for the first time since Congress established its current budgetary process in 1974.
The annual budget resolution limits how much Congress can spend in a given fiscal year, and the lack of one opens the door to uncontrolled spending. That could have led to a bitter pre-election struggle over spending between the Senate and the White House. But realizing that that, too, could be a political Waterloo for their party, Senate Democrats evaded budget issues entirely by passing a temporary spending bill to keep the government funded until Nov. 22, safely after the election.
As of press time, only two of the 13 appropriations bills needed to fund the government in 2003-the defense and the military construction appropriations-have passed both houses of Congress and Capitol Hill sources expect only one more at most to get through before final adjournment of the lame-duck session.
Daschle "is willing to play the bad guy in some of the GOP talking points rather than letting the appropriations process go through," said one Senate aide.
The Daschle Democrats did not draw a bottom line on federal spending this year, and that failure itself underscored the bottom line on their performance as a majority party: They failed in the nations business. They do not deserve to be returned.