Bricka Bracka Firecracker, Sis Boom Bah!

House and Senate Republicans gather without a cheering Bugs Bunny.
House and Senate Republicans gather without a cheering Bugs Bunny. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 2, 2009

The century-old Russell Senate Office Building, a palace of marble and granite where lawmakers have examined everything from the Titanic to Watergate, is not ordinarily a spot for political rallies. But these are not ordinary times.

A quartet of Democratic senators joined scores of union workers and students yesterday in a Russell hearing room across the hall from the office where John F. Kennedy once toiled. Campaign-style signs decorated the room demanding "SUPPORT PRESIDENT OBAMA'S BUDGET" and "PASS THE OBAMA BUDGET."

"Repeat after me!" Common Cause President Bob Edgar commanded, then started a call-and-response chant: "We are! The leaders! We have been waiting for!"

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) was impressed. "We use the Russell Building a lot, but we've never had a rally like this," he told the crowd. "We should make it a more common occurrence."

Should we really?

You've heard of the permanent campaign. Now, welcome the permanent campaign rally. While the House and Senate take up the annual ritual of passing a budget resolution this week, lawmakers have abandoned any thought of compromise and cooperation, instead taking their fight outside with a series of political rallies.

Two months ago, President Obama (who himself has held campaign-style rallies in swing states for his legislative agenda) observed that "old habits die hard" in the partisan Capitol. But if anything, the lawmakers' daily campaigning indicates the old habits have only hardened.

At Democratic National Committee headquarters yesterday morning, party workers were loading minivans with Xerox boxes, each addressed to a different congressional office. It was a classic campaign canvassing operation -- except that the next election is 19 months away. "Supporters of President Obama's Budget to Hand Deliver 642,000 Pledges Gathered from Around the Country to Capitol Hill," announced the Democrats' news release.

CNN and the Huffington Post dutifully reported the DNC's claim of 642,000 pledges. Network cameras and the BBC showed up to film the operation. "We had one of the big printers downstairs smoking last night," party spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.

In fact, the canvassing of Obama's vaunted e-mail list of 13 million people resulted in just 114,000 pledges -- a response rate of less than 1 percent. Workers gathered 100,000 more from street canvassing. The DNC got to 642,000 by making three photocopies of each pledge so that each signer's senators and representative could get one.

Among those unlikely to be influenced by the DNC's pledges: the 100 Republican senators and representatives who lined up early yesterday morning on the Capitol steps. The unsmiling lawmakers (a quick count found eight women and one non-white member) descended from the House chamber in a menacing procession, then watched as their leaders denounced the Obama budget.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was the first to stand at the lectern and barked angry adjectives into the portable sound system: "grave . . . unsustainable . . . unconscionable."

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