One question for Democrats as they kick off the last months of the 11th Congress: can they find a way to speed the glacial pace of action in the Senate? Another: is Nancy Pelosi the only man left on Capitol Hill?
First, on the speed question. The WaPo talks up the new guard of Democrats, who apparently think they can compromise their way to greater glory. But they’ve also got a couple of good working ideas: making the filibuster less able to grind the Senate to a halt, and actually passing some bills before the 111th Congress expires:
Upstarts such as Udall, his cousin Tom Udall (N.M.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Mark Warner (Va.) are expected to wage a fresh campaign to change Senate operating procedures and give first-term lawmakers a greater say over Democratic strategy and how the party communicates with voters.
To amplify the voice of Democratic freshmen, Senate leaders are considering elevating at least one newcomer to senior ranks. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) asked Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), who survived a bruising 2010 challenge, to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2012 campaign cycle. That would have given Bennet a seat at leadership meetings – along with responsibility for a potentially brutal election cycle, with 23 incumbent Democrats on the ballot, compared with 10 Republicans. But Bennet, who has three young children, turned down the job.
A top goal for ’06 and ’08 Democrats is to change Senate rules that allow a single member of the minority party to prevent legislation from advancing. They want the Senate to take a more entrepreneurial approach to crafting bills, rather than falling back on the same veteran chairmen and their pet policy prescriptions. And they are unwilling to write off Republicans, viewing the opposition as the linchpin to advancing Democratic goals.
“The people of this country want more bipartisanship. They want the government to run better. They want us to help the private sector create jobs. That was the message out of the election, and we’d better heed it,” said Klobuchar, a member of the Class of 2006.
Democrats have convened just once as a group – by conference call on Nov. 3 – since losing six Senate seats on Election Day. They are scheduled to hold an extended meeting Tuesday to sort out their priorities for the next month and begin discussing strategy for the 112th Congress.
Underscoring the disparity of views, some Democrats are eager to use the lame-duck session that starts this week to pass as many bills as possible while the party still controls both chambers of Congress. The session is expected include a resolution to fund the federal government through next year, a defense authorization bill that includes a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and an extension of income tax cuts that are scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, over in the House, Mother Nancy — still speaker until the end of the year — is having none of that “bipartisanship” talk. Her goal: consolidate her progressive base and defend the Democratic record over the last two years:
Pelosi has telegraphed the strategy clearly and consistently over the past two weeks. In separate interviews with ABC News and NPR, the outgoing House speaker said she has “no regrets” about an agenda that proved unpopular with voters and that “we didn’t lose the election because of me.” Her aides pointed reporters to laudatory op-eds written by liberal opinion makers, an endorsement from the environmentalist Sierra Club and a letter from 32 House Democratic women backing her candidacy for minority leader in the new GOP-controlled House.
As she enters a chaotic week of lame-duck legislating, the ethics trial of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), freshman orientation and the first contentious leadership election in her eight years as the chief Democrat in the House, Pelosi’s public posture is that of a fighter and a champion for progressive causes who can rally her party back to power.
“We have to be proud of our record,” a Pelosi aide told POLITICO. “There’s been a lot of things that any objective observer would say were impressive. Clearly, there were not enough jobs created.”
Pelosi and her allies blame the midterm results on high unemployment and a White House communications team that House Democrats say failed to articulate the strengths of the party’s agenda to the public.
Pelosi’s ability to sell her narrative will determine not only whether she can turn back a third-and-very-long challenge from Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler of North Carolina for the post of minority leader but also whether a new coalition of critics will be able to strip her of the power to unilaterally appoint allies to influential positions within the party’s leadership structure.
The Rangel “trial” of course gets top billing at Politico, and will likely be THE story on Fox and in other right wing media today, so brace yourself for a lot of talk about things having nothing to do with jobs or the economy out of the Wall Street party. Oh, and I’m sure Rush Limbaugh will have something racist to say about Rangel before the week is out.
But back to the WaPo, where E.J. Dionne asks the most salient question of the day: are the Democrats — the president included — a bunch of men, or a bunch of wimps, because among a bunch of other things he mentions in his must-read column this morning:
An extension of unemployment insurance is set to expire at the end of this month, with the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent. Will Congress go home with little thought to what the lives of these Americans will be like during the coming holidays?
Which brings up the biggest scandal of all: Imagine a Congress that their party still controls passing an extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires but leaving the unemployed in the cold. If this happens, laugh out loud the next time a Democrat claims to be on the side of working people.
Yet administration officials seemed eager to engage in premature capitulation – even if senior adviser David Axelrod tried to back off that approach on Sunday – without a word about the jobless benefits or replacing the tax cuts for the wealthy with measures more geared toward creating jobs, as Sen. Mark Warner has suggested. Couldn’t they at least have gone to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s compromise that would limit the tax cuts to those earning under $1 million? And some Democratic senators just don’t want to be bothered with a long lame-duck session. They want to take care of the wealthy and not do much more.
By caving on tax cuts, the president would turn his recent speeches into empty talk, lending his hand to those who would drive the car back into that ditch he loved to talk about. And if Democrats don’t turn the lame-duck session into a moment of action, they will end a Congress of great achievement not with a bang but with a craven whimper.
What say you, Democrats?
Miami Herald op-ed: Kiss the middle class goodbye
Muddy Politics: force the GOP to defend the rich