Democrats uncertain about approach to midterms

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine talks about the political party's strategy for the November congressional elections. Kaine speaks with Lizzie O'Leary in an interview to air on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capitl With Al Hunt' this weekend. Bloomberg's Julie Hyman also speaks. (Source: Bloomberg)
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2010

The Democrats passed the stimulus package. They passed health-care and Wall Street overhauls and revamped the financing system for higher education. Their other main priorities, on immigration and energy, appear to be headed nowhere.

So, what will they do next?

It's a question that has left congressional Democrats, who have spent the past two years mocking Republicans for lacking an agenda, without a clear plan of their own to promote in the final 80 days of the 2010 campaign.

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House Democratic leaders issued lawmakers three sets of talking points that included one package of new legislation, a collection of modest bills designed to revive the manufacturing sector. Senate Democrats have not exactly jumped to embrace those proposals, instead suggesting that between now and Election Day a more detailed agenda might be forthcoming.

"I think we're working towards it. To my way of thinking -- jobs, the economy and helping the middle class stretch their paycheck -- but there are other issues out there. We have to fill in the details," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday.

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Schumer spoke after a special 30-minute session in which lawmakers approved a $600 million border security bill, probably the last piece of significant legislation to pass before November.

It's a far cry from the heady days of early 2009, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began trumpeting the "four pillars" of what was the most ambitious Capitol Hill agenda since President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" of the 1960s. With Obama's sweeping 2008 victory and the largest congressional majorities in three decades, Democrats passed the $862 billion stimulus in less than a month before moving on to health care and other major issues.

The problem for Democrats is that voters have given them virtually no credit for these ambitious projects. The 111th Congress has the lowest average approval rating (19 percent) of any Congress heading into a midterm election since Gallup started tracking the measure in 1974. On key agenda items, Obama receives failing grades, with 38 percent of voters approving of his handling of the economy and 40 percent approving of his health-care approach, according to Gallup.

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"They have the same problem as Republicans, which is, we're just trying to make it about Democrats," GOP pollster David Winston said. "And the public is saying, 'When is someone going to tell me what they're going to do?' The onus on both parties is: What is their plan to grow the economy and create jobs?"

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