As Congress flees Washington for the Christmas break, it is time to issue our end of year report card for the new Democratic leadership. We could be generous and give them an “Incomplete” but an “F” would be more accurate. But don’t take our word for it or the word of liberal columnists like E.J. Dionne who bemoan the Democrats’ performance. The facts speak for themselves.
The Democrats in Congress, despite a year in the majority and facing a president whose approval ratings are historically low, have been spectacularly unsuccessful in achieving items both small and large on their agenda. A combination of overreaching and incompetence on their part and savvy prevent defense by President Bush and Congressional Republicans has spared the country untold grief.
Most striking was the Democrats utter failure to live up to the key promise of their 2006 campaign: “ending the war in Iraq.” First, the Senate unanimously confirmed General Petreaus (who had committed to a Surge strategy) by an 81-0 vote in late January. Despite more than 60 votes to withdrawal or limit U.S. forces in Iraq, Democrats could not win a veto proof majority to begin retreat in Iraq. This included a 108-day fight over the Defense Department Supplemental spending bill. Although the demise of the “Surge” policy was widely anticipated in September, testimony by General Petreaus and Ambassador Croker shifted the tide — with help from a backlash over the ludicrous and outlandish MoveOn.org attack on General Petreaus — and drowned out Democrats demands that U.S. forces close up shop.
Another year has passed, Guantanamo remains open and operational. U.S. troops are making military progress in Iraq that even MSM reporters and commentators recognize as significant. Democrats renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) earlier in thee year despite objections by civil libertarians and could only delay passage of a reauthorizing version in December since they lacked votes to deny immunity for telephone companies that had cooperated with government and to impose more stringent warrant requirements to monitor terrorists’ calls. This was not what the Democrats had in mind — or promised their Leftwing base.
Democrats also failed on other priorities held dear: federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, elimination of secret ballots for union elections, hate crime legislation protecting homosexuals (tucked into a defense authorization bill), voting rights for the District of Columbia, and government price setting for Medicare drugs. Even the pettiest of goals –working five days a week — could not be achieved. On the SCHIP — the Dems’ plan for a first middle-class entitlement program — President Bush and Congressional Republican stared down the Democrats’ threats to expand this poverty program to millions of middle class Americans, not just the “children” that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid paraded before the cameras.
On immigration after the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill failed Democrats could not even achieve victory on a more limited measure –yes, for the “children” — the DREAM Act. They likewise failed to pass a separate immigration bill for agriculture. Although Democrats swore that hard line Republican views on immigration were a losing proposition and contributed to GOP losses in 2006, they had no stomach after the immigration fight for any more immigration “reform.” (“Blue Dog” Democrat Heath Shuler, who apparently learned a different lesson, did introduce an enforcement only measure which quickly gathered over a hundred co-sponsors.)
The Democrats most significant victory was on an increase in the minimum wage but Republicans nevertheless forced them to accept a small business tax relief package that Senator Mitch McConnell and others defended in the face of Democrat insistence on a “clean” bill — that is one that would have imposed new costs and no relief for millions of small firms.
Likewise the Democrats got an energy bill, but not the one they envisioned. In June and again this month Republicans refused to agree to a bill that would have resulted in millions in new taxes for energy companies. Republican also achieved outright wins: a seven year extension of the internet tax ban and utter rejection of Charlie Rangel’s “mother of all tax bills” (which never received so much as a committee vote) that would have “solved” the alternative minimum tax issue by raising billions in new taxes. Democrats cherished “Pay Go” (their self imposed rule that all tax reductions must be “paid for”) just went.
Republicans had mixed success on steering confirmations past Democratic obstructionism. Judge Michael Mukasey was confirmed as Attorney General when Republican Senators (including even Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham) refused to join an effort to bully him into renouncing the legality of waterboarding. Not even Senator Diane Feinstein could go along with the smears on the character and integrity of Judge Leslie Southwick who was confirmed for the Fifth Circuit. Democrats did however slow the judicial confirmation process to a crawl, suggesting the Republicans with long memories will act similarly whenever the White House is occupied by a Democrat.
So what lessons can be learned? First, the Democrats badly misinterpreted the results of the 2006 election. Had the vast majority of the country wanted amnesty, defeat in Iraq, socialized medicine and the like, the elected representatives in Congress on both sides of the aisle would have felt the heat and voted accordingly. Second, divided government may be a powerful argument for the GOP presidential nominee. If it were not for the presidential veto — actual or threatened — much of the Democratic agenda could well have slipped through. The GOP nominee will be greatly aided by a simple argument: “Do you want Nancy and Harry to have their way?” Finally, Republicans do best when they do not “split the baby” (e.g. give Rangel half of his tax increases) but instead say “no” and force Democrats to vote on measures unpalatable to most voters. In that regard, 2006 may have made 2008 a far easier year — provided Republicans stick to their guns for one more year.