Congress wraps up first set of legislative goals

Democrats congratulated themselves Thursday as they led the House of Representatives to pass the last of their six priority bills well within a self-imposed deadline of the first 100 legislative hours.

“We have delivered on the promise,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We have demonstrated that the Congress of the United States is not a place where good ideas and the optimism of the American people go to die.”

The partisan celebration may be short-lived, however. For all the House Democrats’ success in delivering on their campaign promise to win results in their first 100 hours in power, the achievement reveals little about whether they’ll be able to push the federal government in a new direction.

Future measures promise to divide Democrats, unlike their initial six bills. And even if they can drive their agenda through the House, Republicans already have shown that they can block Democrats in the Senate, where opponents can derail bills with just 41 votes and Republicans have 49.

In fact, Republicans sidelined the first bill that come up for a vote in the new Senate — ethics revisions — forcing Democrats to negotiate over details.

“The minority is not irrelevant,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.

Similar Senate fights doubtless will greet other House bills. Then too, President Bush retains veto power.

Moreover, while House Democrats were consumed with their 100-hour agenda, the Iraq war trumped domestic concerns among the public. While Democrats talked about the war a lot this week, every Democrat who wants to be president in 2008 is offering a competing plan to end it, and so far the party shows no sign of taking effective action to change the war’s course.

All this helps put the House Democrats’ early agenda triumph in perspective: a victory, to be sure, but of limited significance.

“They should get credit at least for having an initial platform they wanted to carry out,” said

Donald Wolfensberger, the director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“It has symbolic value, showing the American people they’re serious about getting some things done,” he said. “But as you remember with the Contract with America,” the manifesto of Republicans who took control of Congress in 1994, “a lot of that stuff died in the Senate or was vetoed by President Clinton. It’s sort of the opening salvo. The hard stuff comes now.”