Six months ago, the idea of a Democratic House seemed far-fetched; taking the Senate was impossible.
How things have changed. The odds of a House takeover are 60-40; taking the Senate would only require that the Dems: (1) hold on to leads against GOP incumbents in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island (nearly certain); (2) turn out their base in Maryland, Missouri, and New Jersey (very possible); and (3) get lucky in either Tennessee or Virginia (could happen).
What will happen, after the election? Three things:
1. It’s raining subpeonas! Committee hearings and subpeonas will be the number one non-legislative priority of a Dem-controlled House. If they take the Senate, given its star power and prestige, we will have a new reality TV show: “Survivor: Oversight!”, with lots of Republican officials voted right off the island. The Dems argue, with cause, that Congress has failed to monitor thousands of administration activities. Expect hearings on administrative rule-making, wire-tapping, detainees, health care for veterans, too much corruption and not enough armor in Iraq….I could go on. If you are an attorney with Democratic connections, dust off the resume. Hundreds of lawyers needed, right away.
2. It’s the Congress, stupid! The center of power and focus for the Dems moves even more to the Congress. Nancy Pelosi will raise $50 million this election cycle, Democratic Senate fundraising chief Charles Schumer is likely to raise more than $100 million before election day. And that is partly because both their organizations, the DCCC and the DSCC, have worked hard. But much of the reason is the grating ineptitude of National Committee Chair Howard Dean, and the apparent belief that “Presidential timber” means candidates made of wood. Except for the anomaly of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic presidential nominee with leadership ability was John Kennedy. Congress is where the Dems feel comfortable ruling.
3. Fiddling while Ramala burns. Having control of Congress means that the Democrats will have to govern, instead of criticize. They are going to need something besides the old standard, “vote for us, and we’ll give you other people’s money!” But their first legislative priority is (drum roll, please)….a new minimum wage law. They claim they will pass this legislation within the first “100 hours” of a new Congress, invoking Roosevelt’s whirlwind “100 days.” Are you serious? You take power in a nation at war, after 12 years wandering in the political wilderness, and your first priority is a symbolic gesture that restores the minimum wage to its inflation-adjusted level when you lost power? The Dems aren’t just mad about 1994; they think it is 1994!
Let’s be honest; the reason the Dems will focus on hearings, and symbolism, is that there is no party consensus on the problems in Iraq. Sure, they didn’t create those problems, but they say they want to rule. They won’t, not on Iraq. The Democrats will dither, criticizing the administration from a newly powerful perspective, but not offering a solution. John Kerry told the truth, in 2004: the Dems think Bush lied, and made a mistake, in Iraq. But at this point they wouldn’t do anything different. And they won’t. Let’s work on that minimum wage thing, instead.
Still, there may be hope for ending the war, in the kind of paradox often found in politics. A Democratic majority could not call for an immediate exit from Iraq, without hamstringing the campaign of their next wooden presidential nominee, in 2008. But the Republicans would have to pull out of Iraq, or at least have a plan for doing so, for their candidate to have a chance in 2008. Iraqi insurgents will be cheered by what they rightly see, in a Democratic takeover, as a voter rejection of Bush’s war. Even if the Dems dither, the administration will have to advance some sort of plan for bringing the troops home, or the Republicans will lose the presidency in two years.