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Dems' Future on Line As New Congress Convenes

The Democratic majority takes control of Congress this week for the first time in 12 years, and Lyndsey Layton and Juliet Eilperin have an insightful preview in their WaPo article "Democrats To Start Without GOP Input." Those who favor a strong "take charge" strategy for Dems over a more bipartisan approach will be encouraged. As Eilperin and Layton note:

Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking...instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.

But Speaker Pelosi's spokesman Brendan Daly indicated that the take charge strategy applies primarily to the much publicized "plan for first 100 hours" when the House convenes on Thursday:

Daly said Democrats are still committed to sharing power with the minority down the line. "The test is not the first 100 hours," he said. "The test is the first six months or the first year. We will do what we promised to do....We've talked about these things for more than a year," he said. "The members and the public know what we're voting on. So in the first 100 hours, we're going to pass these bills"

The authors point out that Senate Democrats will implement a more conciliatory strategy, owing to their slender majority.

WaPo has another article of interest regarding the Dems' congressional strategy, E. J. Dionne's "The New Crowd's First Test," in which he makes the case that Dems must pass strong ethics legislation. Noting that the November election was the first time since 1954 that Dems have taken back both houses of Congress, Dionne warns:

This allows the new Democratic majority, in principle at least, to come in with no commitments to doing business as it was done in the immediate past...If Democrats don't seize this rare opportunity, their party will pay for a long time. Not only will they disillusion their own supporters, but, more important, the angry centrists of the Ross Perot stripe who voted the Republicans out last year will either go back to the GOP or seek other options.

More specifically and with respect to ethics reform, Dionne notes:

...any Democrats who think this anti-corruption talk is just a fad should consult a memo written two weeks after November's elections by Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the incoming chairman of the Democratic caucus and the House's shrewdest electoral tactician.

Emanuel counted eight districts the Democrats won largely because of corruption issues. The Democrats, he said, need to be the reformers they said they'd be. "Failing to deliver on this promise," he added, "would be devastating to our standing with the public, and certainly jeopardize some of our marginal seats."

Dems have an unprecedented opportunity to solidify public support, and ethics reform is clearly Job 1.