- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The new Congress recently passed its 100-day mark — an anachronistic anniversary concocted by the media to measure legislative performance. The phrase started as a way to describe the time-frame in which Democrats in Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the first parts of the New Deal, but it gets liberally applied now anytime a new Congress begins. But if FDR and his Democratic allies smashed opposition like a steamroller, today’s new legislative majority is more akin to a legislative weed-whacker.

It’s unfair to compare FDR and his allies in Congress to the current majority due to a host of institutional differences. Still, this is a good point to take stock and assess what Democrats have done to date and where they might move next.

Unfortunately their early track record is not pretty. Moving the country forward seems more like a foggy campaign promise than a clear operating principle. Democrats are more interested in easy political theater than forging hard bipartisan consensus. A better moniker for the past three months: 100 days on stage. But acting without accomplishments is getting bad reviews.

Democrats worship political numerology. They campaigned last fall on a “Six for 06” agenda. These half-dozen bills were then jammed through the House in “The First Hundred Hours.” Yet their numbers don’t add up to accomplishments. The Los Angeles Times also notes the Democrats’ reliance on sloganeering with integers. “But when it comes to how many of their top priorities have become law,” they wrote earlier this month, “a different number stands out: zero. None of the six bills that the House Democrats passed in their initial legislative juggernaut has made it to the president’s desk.” And a new poll by the same newspaper reveals nearly six in 10 respondents could not name anything important the new Congress has done.

The Democrats’ early steps are a classic case of legislative overreach, which always leads to congressional underperformance. A closely divided Senate and a Republican president guarantee that bills driven through the House with slim partisan majorities are on a dead-end street. So far, most of their major initiatives appear headed down that same road.

But the new majority probably has to experience a learning curve before it changes directions. After a few easily sustained vetoes or measures blocked by filibusters in the Senate, Democrats will have an opportunity to change the plot of their Days on Stage. But will they? It’s tough to imagine they will let up on a politically motivated investigative gas pedal. Democrats infatuated with shiny new gavels and burnishing fresh subpoena power will find it hard to back off from an aggressive oversight agenda. As a former Democratic senator told me, in today’s partisan age, “the goal is not only to beat your political opponents, but destroy them.” So, the bludgeoning through oversight will continue until further notice.

And the prospects on the legislative landscape appear equally barren. At this point “compromise” with the White House is not in their lexicon. Left-wing vigilantes — in Congress and representing Democratic interest groups — patrol the party like thought police ready to arrest renegade bargainers and charge them with crimes of capitulation. So the big issues of the day, affordable health care, retirement security and tax reform will likely produce partisan options with lots of heat but little light.

Most troubling, however, about the 100 Days on Stage, is the Democrats’ confusion between the politics of elections and the responsibilities of governing. Nowhere is this bewilderment more evident than in the realm of foreign policy. Alarm bells should have gone off in the caucus recently when a Democratic leader announced his party had an “alternative foreign policy.” So, who does speak for the United States in international affairs? President Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or any freshman Democrat who gets interviewed on CNN? The Democrats’ biggest failure has been their governing tone. Tactically, on matters related to domestic policy, investigations and international affairs — they swirl in the vortex of the permanent campaign.

A truism in Washington is “good public policy makes good politics.” But the opposite is not true: Pure politics does not produce good public policy. Democrats in many ways are stalled halfway through a 2006 electoral victory lap. Yet the election is over; they won. It’s time to calm the rage and produce results.

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