Democratic Clout Is On The Upswing
In the gray-suited halls of the US Senate, few days have produced more high drama than the one this Wednesday – which yielded no fewer than five major pieces of legislation, 11th-hour wheeling and dealing, and sober messages to some powerful senators that it is no longer politics as usual in terms of party solidarity.
Wrapping up work for the year, the Senate passed two key defense bills – dropping a plan in one of them to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling – and a six-month extension of the USA Patriot Act. Senators also approved a $601.6 billion social spending bill, and identified nearly $40 billion in spending cuts.
But before the final curtain, Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans managed to ensure that some especially divisive issues, ranging from privacy rights to the fairness of the US tax code, come up early in 2006 – an election year. For Democrats, it’s the high-water mark for minority clout since Republicans took control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Republicans worked very hard and gambled on being able to basically intimidate the Democrats on the Patriot Act and the ANWR provision in the Defense appropriations bill, and it didn’t work,” says Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
If this is an accurate reading, you can expect several things:
- Continued efforts by Democrats to take the battle to the GOP on a variety of issues and not go down without a fight. Victories — even if some insist they’re just perceived victories — embolden.
- Bill Frist will be under more and more pressure. He is truly proving to be one of the most ineffective majority leaders in Senate history.
- A clamor by GOP partisans for their party to take a harder line and battle the Democrats even more strongly.
It’s one of several factors suggesting Howard Fineman is right.