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Key Setbacks Dim Luster of Democrats' Year

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By Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 20, 2007

The first Democratic-led Congress in a dozen years limped out of Washington last night with a lengthy list of accomplishments, from the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in a generation to the first minimum-wage hike in a decade.

But Democrats' failure to address the central issues that swept them to power left even the most partisan of them dissatisfied and Congress mired at a historic low in public esteem.

Handed control of Congress last year after making promises to end the war in Iraq, restore fiscal discipline in Washington and check President Bush's powers, Democrats instead closed the first session of the 110th Congress yesterday with House votes that sent Bush $70 billion in war funding, with no strings attached, and a $50 billion alternative-minimum-tax measure that shattered their pledge not to add to the federal budget deficit.

"I'm not going to let a lot of hard work go unnoticed, but I'm not going to hand out party hats, either," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

On Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday: "Nobody is more disappointed with the fact that we couldn't change that than I am." But Pelosi was not about to accept Republican assertions that her first year as speaker has been unsuccessful, saying: "Almost everything we've done has been historic."

Unable to garner enough votes from their own party, House Democratic leaders had to turn to Republicans to win passage of a $555 billion domestic spending bill after the Senate appended $70 billion to it for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war funding passed 272 to 142, with Democrats voting 141 to 78 against it.

The Democratic leaders again had to appeal to Republicans to win passage of a measure to stave off the growth of the alternative minimum tax, because fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats were in open revolt and refused to go along. The Blue Dogs insisted that the Senate offset the bill's cost with tax increases on hedge-fund and private-equity managers.

Needing two-thirds of the House to pass under fast-track rules, the tax measure was approved 352 to 64, with all 64 "no" votes coming from Democrats standing by their pledge not to support any tax cut or mandatory spending increase that would expand the national debt.

The year's finale angered the entire spectrum of the Democratic coalition, from the antiwar left to new Southern conservatives who helped bring Democrats to power last year.

"This is a blank check," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "The new money in this bill represents one cave-in too many. It is an endorsement of George Bush's policy of endless war."

Still, the Democrats delivered much of what they promised last year. Of the six initiatives on the their "Six for '06" agenda, congressional Democrats sent five to the president and got his signature on four: a minimum-wage increase, implementation of the homeland security recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, college cost reduction, and an energy measure that requires conservation and the expanded use of renewable sources of energy.

Federal funding for stem cell research was vetoed by Bush.


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