Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid return to work this week. But the Congress they lead is already a failure, no matter what they now do.
When they took power, they had three major goals: to end the war in Iraq, cripple this presidency, and pave the way for a Democratic sweep next year. They have failed in all three respects.
Even with public opinion behind them, they were unable to force a withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, our military got the time it needed to start making progress on the ground. The Democrats’ allies tried to discredit Gen. David Petraeus. Now the Democrats are being forced to concede that the surge is working. Jack Murtha, the leader of the House withdrawal caucus, is the latest to make that admission.
For a lame duck, President Bush has run rings around the Congress. He has been able to maintain his highest-priority policy — the war — which was the highest priority of his opponents to change. He has gotten a new attorney general confirmed. Along with congressional Republicans, he has blocked the Democrats from achieving the vast majority of their domestic agenda. The unions, in particular, haven’t gotten their payoff. They want to be able to organize companies without going to the trouble of having employees vote by secret ballot. Senate Republicans kept them from getting their wish. Thanks to market forces and popular sentiment, union membership and power will continue to decline.
The Democrats could have a sweep in 2008, but if they do it will not be because of anything this Congress or its leaders did. The congressional majority has inflicted very little political damage on the Republicans, either through show trials or through legislation. They had some success, to be sure, in portraying Republicans as opposed to children’s health care; but by next November that debate will have widened into an argument about the future of American health care, which was unavoidable anyway and in which the Democrats may be overreaching.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congress has, through its inability to fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, even for a year, ensured that taxpayers will receive their refunds late. Republican politicians may not always be as sharp as we would like, but surely they have the wit to channel public blame where it belongs.
We do not mean to deny that Democratic control of Congress has had consequences. It has slowed the progress of free trade and the confirmation of judges, for example. But when Congress changes hands, the new majority typically achieves its greatest victories in its first term. The Republican Congress never enacted anything more revolutionary than the welfare reform it passed in its second year. This Congress is on track to do nothing similar. The left-wing “netroots” seem to be disappointed with Reid and Pelosi, as they should be. This alliance should prove to be as happy as it is effective.