Confident Democrats Lay Out Agenda

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader, promised
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader, promised "to use the power to investigate" the Bush administration if the Democrats win the House. (By Rich Pedroncelli -- Associated Press)
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Democratic leaders, increasingly confident they will seize control of the House in November, are laying plans for a legislative blitz during their first week in power that would raise the minimum wage, roll back parts of the Republican prescription drug law, implement homeland security measures and reinstate lapsed budget deficit controls.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in an interview last week that a Democratic House would launch a series of investigations of the Bush administration, beginning with the White House's first-term energy task force and probably including the use of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Pelosi denied Republican allegations that a Democratic House would move quickly to impeach President Bush. But, she said of the planned investigations, "You never know where it leads to."

In recent days, Democratic confidence has been buoyed by a series of polls indicating that not only is Bush growing increasingly unpopular, so are Republicans in Congress. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday found that 33 percent of the public approves of Bush's job performance, the lowest rating of his presidency. And only 25 percent approves of the job Congress is doing, a figure comparable to congressional approval ratings before the 1994 elections that swept Republicans to power.

The AP-Ipsos poll found that 51 percent of Americans say they want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress. Only 34 percent favor Republican control.

"We have to be ready to win," Pelosi said, "and we have to tell [voters] what we will do when we win."

Republicans say Democratic leaders run the risk of looking overconfident -- if not foolish -- in predicting they will win the 15 net seats necessary to take the House.

"If they fall short [of control], she's going to be severely damaged," Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said of Pelosi.

But Democratic planning parallels similar efforts 12 years ago, when GOP leaders were plotting a return to control after 42 years. By May 1994, Republicans had the outlines of a legislative agenda that would become their "Contract With America," said Richard K. Armey, who was the chairman of the House Republican Conference at that time.

Republicans then needed to pick up 40 seats, something most analysts considered virtually impossible six months before the election.

Democrats need to pick up 15, a task that many analysts still believe is a long shot. Democratic leaders do not.

"We are more and more confident that we are going to have the responsibility of leading the House, so we have to prepare," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).

Despite waves of redistricting that have solidified the positions of incumbents from both parties, Pelosi said 50 Republican seats are in play, while fewer than 10 Democratic seats face strong challenges. That figure of GOP seats is disputed by independent analysts, but even the most cautious estimates put more than 15 Republican seats in jeopardy.

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