The news today is in Washington is that the Senate and House have finally synced up on a spending bill. And with that, the first year of the 110th Congress is now essentially in the books. The reviews are almost universally rotten, particularly on the left.
How bad? A poll on the Daily Kos asks readers, “If you had a dime for every time the Democrats backed down, how rich would you be?” The winner: “C. Montgomery Burns rich,” with 36 percent of the vote. (“Bill Gates rich” was second, with 28 percent.) And the latest real poll gives Congressional Democrats a 30 percent approval rating.
The spending bill manages to insult Democrats of all ideological stripes. The anti-war crowd is incensed that, yet again, Congress has appropriated money ($55 billion, in this case) for Iraq and Afghanistan without any strings or conditions – a blank check for George W. Bush to continue the war. And moderates in the party just saw their hard-won promise from leadership to institute “pay-go” budgeting go up in smoke, since the spending bill frees 23 million middle class Americans from the encroaching alternative minimum tax without replacing the $50 billion in lost revenue.
There are two lessons the Democratic base can take from this disheartening year. One would be to throw their hands up and declare the Democrats in Congress a lost cause; the other would be to recognize the maddening complexities of Congressional politics, especially when the majority party barely controls both chambers (and, on some days, doesn’t even have effective control of the Senate).
This slim majority was never going to be enough to end the war without the help of the President or the Republicans in Congress. Neither has pitched in. There are just too many opinions within the Democratic ranks over how to end the war – a good chunk have believed, dating back to the Vietnam War, that cutting off the funds would be a catastrophe politically and militarily. The reality is that the best the Democratic Congress can do by itself, at least for now, is to prevent another war; not end this one.
On a certain level, the base seems to understand this. Polls still show Democrats with solid advantages in the ’08 generic Congressional ballot, and the party still seems poised to make sizable gains in the Senate, and probably the House too. Plus, the House and Senate campaign committees are in terrific financial shape, while the G.O.P.’s bankroll has dried up.
The Democrats may end up with much more solid control of Congress next year, and of the White House as well. But if they do, they’ll have no more excuses for years like 2007.