Fleeing By Friday

If Congress doesn’t pass a defense appropriations bill by Wednesday, about 100,000 Defense Department employees will find layoff notices in their Christmas stockings.  The most irresponsible wartime Congress in American history is about to leave town for the Christmas recess. Their failure will dog Democratic candidates through the primaries and into next year’s election.

Instead of insisting that Congress fund the Defense Department, Hillary Clinton has spent this year doing’s bidding.  In September, she told General David Petraeus that his report on Iraq required a “willing suspension of disbelief.”  She called him a liar.  When Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced a resolution condemning the infamous “Petraeus — Betray Us” ad, Clinton voted against it.

Clinton is a tower of strength compared to her chief primary competitor, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Il).  Obama, having voted for the Democratic substitute to the Cornyn resolution earlier that same day, absented himself and didn’t vote at all on Cornyn’s measure. 

Now another Clinton primary competitor, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), is threatening a filibuster of the bipartisan Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill that came out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence by an 18-2 vote. 

Last Wednesday, Clinton, Obama and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del), another Democratic presidential contender, joined Dodd in a letter to Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asking that the counterproposal on FISA passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee be considered instead of the SSCI bill. 

The current Democrat-engineered FISA mess involves what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told me last week were two non-negotiable points.  First, immunity from civil suits for the telecom companies whose cooperation is essential. Second, is the Dems’ initiative to impose a requirement for FISA warrants before listening in on terrorists overseas.  Despite their fear of, Clinton, Obama and the rest know they will lose again. And if they don’t pass a FISA bill in the ten or so days they’ll have in January, Usama bin Laden will be able to start using pay phones. 

All this is posturing to appease the crowd.  The last time they tried to hobble FISA — just before the August recess — ended in a clear win for the White House. This round will end the same way, and the Dems know it.  But that makes their fight this week that much more important, and that much more risky for their presidential wannabes.

They’re in a tough spot for two reasons.  First, the 49 Republicans who have (under McConnell’s and Sen. Trent Lott’s (R-Miss)) leadership have stymied most of the Dems’ agenda.  Second, the Dems’ leaders — Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — are the least effective congressional leadership in memory (a point even Reid’s staff is conceding privately.)

This week’s battle over federal government funding will be a showdown between Reid and McConnell.  McConnell plans an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would shave all appropriations down to the president’s numbers and — within it — add $70 billion of war funding with no strings attached.  Reid may not permit McConnell to offer it, “filling the tree” with the maximum number of amendments himself. 

But if McConnell is allowed to offer it? “There’s no way to understate — given Democratic perspective — what a tough vote this would be,” McConnell said. He added, “To get Democratic votes they will have to spend less than they want to spend on the domestic side and would be appropriating more money for the war than they wanted to appropriate which is probably little or nothing.” That result is too uncertain to call today.  But the effect on the 2008 race is becoming clearer.

Neither of the two leading Democrat presidential contenders can escape the shackles of the failures of Reid and Pelosi.  Hillary Clinton’s campaign — behind in Iowa and sinking slowly in New Hampshire — is in trouble.  It’s not a question of whether she and Obama will suffer because of their participation in the Congressional mess. It’s only a matter of degree, and when it will hit. 

The failure in Washington is an insider-outsider issue.  Hillary Clinton is the ultimate Washington insider, Obama is posing as an outsider.  Only third-ranking contender Edwards has been gone long enough to avoid the “insider” label.  Clinton’s campaign is faring so badly in Iowa and hanging on by so slim a thread in New Hampshire that she may have reached her moment of catastrophic anxiety.  The New York Post yesterday reported “chaos” in her campaign. 

Last week, Clinton’s campaign — i.e., her husband and their Greek chorus in the media — tried to gain sympathy for her to soften the coming likely loss in Iowa.  But Hillary isn’t Bill:  she’s Nurse Ratched to his Bubba.  Sympathy won’t come.  And when the congressional showdown votes come this week, she’ll be tarred with them by the left and the right.  If Republican candidates are smart, they’ll start making this an issue now.

The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary will come and go at the same time Americans are digesting the absurdity of this congressional session.   The Democrats promised a lot to win in 2006, but have delivered almost nothing.  No withdrawal from Iraq, no tax increases on the rich. The only win they may be able to claim is the State Childrens’ Health Insurance Program — SCHIP — which Republicans are likely to lose this week.  Hillary, Obama, Dodd, and Biden all share Reid’s failure. 

American voters have grown tired of congressional failures, and no matter how many times the Democrats blame Republican obstructionism, the fact is that with majorities in both houses, they’ve failed to deliver what their core constituency — the hard-core left – elected them to do.  Which is good news only for John Edwards, and very bad news for Clinton and Obama. 

When Napoleon retreated from Moscow in 1812, legend has it that French blood colored the snow red.  When Congress retreats from Washington this week, it will color the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire and the primaries on February 5.