Friday, January 19, 2007

The Democratic Congress

The House Democrats' 100-hours plan worked pretty well politically, so far: House Democrats celebrate the passage of their 100-hour agenda by Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers 01/18/07; Pelosi leads Dems to early victories San Francisco Chronicle 01/19/07.

Some of it may well wind up having positive practical effects, like the airline-security measures and the minimum-wage increase.   Bush is likely to veto the stem-cell research bill.

So far, the House Democrats have performed in a more focused way than Senate Dems. Both Senate and House committees have started exercising some real oversight, any of which would be an improvement over what we've seen the last five years. See Gonzales faces sharp criticism by senators by Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers 01/18/07 and also Gleen Greenwald's caustic comments about Abu Gonzales in The Grave and Epic War Unclaimed Territory blog 01/18/07.

But even there, Senate Dems faltered a bit. Majority Leader Harry Reid breezily said he would approve a force-level escalation in Iraq, though he switched quickly to a more critical posture.

Joe Biden, who should be one of the heaviest hitters on oversight as head of the Foreign Relations Committee, hemmed and hawed about whether Congress could and should restrict military activity in Iraq. But he also took the position that the administration did not have the authority to make war on Iran. And in his Presidential campaigning, he's backed off his flirtation with neo-Confederate nonsense by coming out against the display of the Confederate flag by the state of South Carolina.

Seeing the steadier performance of the House Dems suggest to me that Senate Dems should rethingk their recent approach of selecting the Majority Leader from "purple" states that have relatively fewer Democratic voters, e.g., Tom Daschle from South Dakota and Harry Reid from Nevada. Part of the thinking has been that the Senate Democratic leader should present a more "centrist" image to the country, since the Senate Dem leader is one of the party's most prominent figures.

But that also means that the Senate Democratic leader always has to worry about looking "too partisan" with an eye to their own re-election campaigns. Yet the aprty leader needs to be partisan.

Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district is one of the "bluest" in the country. She's scarcely immune from business lobbying pressures, and even San Francisco has its share of stodgy capitalists. (Also some non-stodgy ones, fortunately.) But she doesn't have to fear looking "too Democratic" herself. Early experience in this Congress suggests there a real advantage to drawing the Congressional leadership from soldily Democratic districts.

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