Democrats have floated at least 20 plans to curb or end the war in Iraq since taking control of Congress four months ago, a strategy that has produced one vetoed bill and slowed their domestic agenda to a crawl.
The time-consuming onslaught includes both symbolic declarations and binding measures incapable of passing a Senate essentially evenly divided between the parties — repealing the 2002 war authorization, blocking President Bush’s troop surge with strict deployment standards, restricting funds to noncombat operations and setting limits on troop levels.
“Democrats have spent four months spinning their wheels with partisan political exercises when we could have gotten the right thing done in one week,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. He was referring to the legislative impasse between Congress and Mr. Bush over $100 billion in emergency war funds.
“It’s time to give American troops the funds they need, support their mission and move forward on an agenda to address some of the domestic issues Americans wrestle with every day,” Mr. Boehner said.
Democratic leaders, responding to their party’s vocal anti-war base, repeatedly say they have a mandate to correct Mr. Bush’s war policy, but a poll shows their stewardship of the nation’s legislative branch is receiving tepid reviews. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll shows 35 percent approve of Congress’ job performance, a five-point dip in a month that brings it near Mr. Bush’s low job-approval numbers.
Democrats say the poll indicates their Iraq efforts are overshadowing progress on other initatives, and that rising gasoline prices are hurting attitudes toward Congress, which historically has low approval ratings.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, acknowledged that the gridlock is talking a toll.
“People are unhappy. There hasn’t been a lot of change in direction, for example, in Iraq,” he told the Associated Press.
In the first 100 hours of their House leadership, Democrats pushed through a domestic agenda of six measures — dubbed the “Six for ‘O6” — including elevating the minimum-wage increase, funding stem-cell research, funding alternative energy development, implementing the recommendations of the September 11 commission, changing Medicare’s drug plan and cutting student loan interest rates.
None has become law and three face a presidential veto.
Senate Republicans, in an agreement with the White House designed to expedite the process, opted not to filibuster the war-funding bill so it could meet Mr. Bush’s veto pen May 1 because it included a timetable to pull out troops as soon as July.
House Democrats last week ignored Mr. Bush’s veto threat again and passed a bill that rations war funding two months at a time and sets up a possible August troop withdrawal.
“Democrats haven’t yet grasped one of the obligations of the majority, which is to figure out how you get the work done,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “That’s why there are no bills signed into law. That’s why the ‘Six for ‘06’ agenda hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said the focus on Iraq is understandable because it is the “most important problem facing our country.”
“Indeed, it would be strange if Congress was not attempting to forge a new direction in Iraq,” Emanuel spokesman Nick Papas said. “The president’s strategy for Iraq clearly isn’t working. Congress has the power of the purse and a duty to conduct real, meaningful oversight.”