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Dems Tread Carefully in Advancing Agenda

The National Journal's Charlie Cook pulls the plug on the party lights in his post "Reality check for the Democrats: Fragile majority seems to be acknowledging its limitations" at MSNBC's Politics page. Cook says GOP pundits who expected the Dems under Speaker Pelosi to press a full-speed-ahead leftist agenda are disappointed by the House Dems'"moderate and measured" leadership. Noting that approval ratings of congress in opinion polls have improved only slightly, Cook explains:

Public antipathy toward Congress is deeply engrained; trying to turn it around is akin to changing the direction of an aircraft carrier -- it only happens very slowly. Democrats had the luxury of attacking a much-maligned institution in 2006; in 2008 they must defend it and justify its performance.

...As tempting as it must be for Democrats to embark on a bold and ambitious policy agenda, particularly after having been mired in the minority for a dozen years, the simple truth is that between the reality of narrow majorities and their decision to abide by pay-as-you-go spending and tax rules, their options are few and limited to relatively small-ticket items.

According to Cook, the average post-election approval rating for Congress in the most recent polls is 34.4 percent, which is an improvement over pre-election figures averaging about 27 percent. With just over a third of respondents holding a favorable impression of Congress, however, it may be that the public wants bolder action on leading priorities such as disengaging from Iraq and better health care security.

Cook describes the House Dems' 15-seat majority as "narrow," but it's extravagant compared to the 1-seat margin that allows Dems to run the Senate. A 15-seat lead should be enough to hold the House in '08, barring any major disasters. Winning some breathing space in the Senate is the more urgent challenge --- and the key to bolder Democratic leadership in Congress.