House Democrats Have Had Bipartisan Successes, Says GOP Cong.

Republicans have been trying to trot out rather tired attacks that the Democratic Congress has not accomplished much thus far this year (an attack that, of course, overlooks the fact that it has been the Republicans, whether in the Senate or in the White House, who have been obstucting the business of the American people). But if they want their message to percolate down to the masses, they're going to have to make sure all of their troops stay on message, which doesn't appear to be happening.

"[Congressional Democrats have] had a pretty strong quarter," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who praised [the legislation expanding SCHIP] as "creative" and suggested the homeland security bill would pass overwhelmingly. "The first quarter was not so good, and that's why they're not looking so good in the polls, but this quarter is looking very good for them. They can send their members home crowing about their accomplishments, and they've done it in a bipartisan way, which is exactly what they promised to do," LaHood said.

Whoops. And the thing that makes this admission even worse for the Republicans is the fact that it's true. The Democrats in the House have, from day one, been running the chamber in a significantly more bipartisan manner than the Republicans every did during their dozen years in charge. Take a look at some of the earliest votes of the Congress. 299 votes for implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations, including 68 Republicans. 315 votes for increasing the minimum wage, including 82 Republicans. 253 votes for expanding funding for stem cell research, including 37 Republicans. 255 votes for prescription drug price negotiations, including 24 Republicans. The list goes on.

And not only are Democratic bills garnering the support of Republican members of Congress, Democratic proposals are finding strong support across party lines within the electorate. Take Iraq, for example. When asked by The Washington Post and ABC News whether they trust Congressional Democrats or President Bush on the Iraq War, respondents overwhelmingly sided with the Democrats, 55 percent to 32 percent. To take another example, the vast majority of Americans -- including a large majority of Republicans -- support Democratic plans to expand SCHIP to provide more children with healthcare.

Certainly there have been a great deal of disappointments this Congress, no more so than on Iraq. Yet at the same time, there have been and will continue to be successes that enjoy support from both parties. Before Congress goes into recess at the end of next week, it will likely send to the President's desk popular legislation finally implementing the vast majority of the 9/11 Commission recommendations (after such a bill had long been blocked by Republicans) and instituting somewhat more stringent ethics regulations. So though he doesn't come out and explicitly state it, I agree with the thrust of LaHood's implicit suggestion that we might see Congressional Democrats' approval rating begin to rise in the not too distant future.

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GOP Digs in on Opposition to Children's Healthcare

It's bad enough for the Republican Party that its standard bearer, George W. Bush, has pledged to veto wildly popular legislation that would extend healthcare coverage to children who do not yet have it. But a party always has a capacity to distance itself from its leadership should it want to. Apparently, however, the GOP does not want to back away from the President on children's healthcare -- it wants to embrace his extremist and ideologically-driven position. Robert Pear reports for The New York Times:

Republican leaders of the House and Senate on Tuesday attacked proposals that call for a major expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program, to be financed with higher tobacco taxes.

"Republicans will fight these proposals," said the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio.

In an unexpected turn of events, the top two Republicans in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Trent Lott of Mississippi, said they opposed a bipartisan bill that the Senate Finance Committee approved last week and would offer an alternative on the Senate floor.

[...]

Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, a leading proponent of the House bill, said: "For the longest time, I was mystified why Republicans would oppose expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program to kids who are eligible but not enrolled. Now I realize. They are trying to deny us a political victory. They want to be able to say that Democrats can't get anything done.

There is reason to believe that DeGette is right -- that the Republicans are blocking this measure solely out of their diligence to the cause of obstructionism. Considering the fact that Senate Republicans are blowing away the record for obstructionism, certainly this is a plausible answer.

But I do not believe it is the correct one. No, more likely Republicans mean what they say when they offer their reasoning behind opposing the Democratic measure to expand SCHIP to cover more children -- they are ideologically opposed to taking this approach. The problem for the GOP in this case is that their position is terribly unpopular, even with the Republican base.

Take a look back at the comprehensive polling commissioned on the American healthcare system by The Times and CBS News earlier this year, Americans support the idea of expanding SCHIP to cover all children (a proposal that goes even farther than that of either House or Senate Democrats) by a remarkable 84 percent to 11 percent margin. Even Republicans overwhelmingly support such a measure, 72 percent to 21 percent. A majority of Republicans, albeit a smaller one of 57 percent, support the government providing healthcare coverage for all American children even if it means that their own taxes would be raised. As I noted at the time, my assumption is "that an even higher number would register support for a plan that would just raise tobacco taxes, not impose an additional payroll tax or increase income taxes."

So if Congressional Republicans think they are safe ground fighting the expansion of SCHIP on ideological grounds, they are sorely mistaken. They simply do not have the backing of their own base in this matter. Perhaps if they were blocking this for partisan reasons their base would stomach their actions, but as it is they might find themselves in real trouble, both with their base as well as with the broader electorate (which is even more supportive of the expansion of SCHIP than simple Republican voters).

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Forcing a Filibuster on Iraq

Bob Geiger has the big scoop of the day: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will force the Republicans to actually filibuster -- to speak at length rather than just vote against cloture -- a measure that would bring an end to the Iraq War. This is a move called for by former MyDDer Chris Bowers, among others, and one that I have generally thought to be a good idea (as I indicated a few months ago).

That said, I'd like to take a moment to lay out a few notes of caution -- not an argument that the Democrats should not undertake this move, because I generally believe they should, but some thoughts that should be kept in mind through this process.

During the last Congress, Senate Republicans found themselves to be frustrated by Democrats' moves to stall the judicial nominations of some extremely conservative jurists. As a result, they decided to hold a 30-hour counter filibuster, forcing Democrats to the floor overnight as they talked through the evening about the importance of radically realigning the court to favor corporations, an all-powerful executive and the religious right. By undertaking this action, Senate Republicans hoped to expose what they saw as Democratic obstructionism. Yet in the end, it was the Republicans who emerged with egg on their faces, seemingly wasting taxpayer dollars and legislators' time in a clearly futile effort.

I do not believe that there is a direct parallel here. For one, the Democrats are on much stronger political footing working to end the war in Iraq than the Republicans ever were during the battle over judicial nominations. The Republicans' move was a play to the base whereas the Democrats' move is one that appeals not only to Democrats but also Independents and even some Republicans fed up with the war.

Yet at the same time, just as the Republicans' dog and pony show during the last Congress did wonders to highlight the Democrats' attack that the 109th Congress was a "Do Nothing Congress", so too might an all-night talk-a-thon remind voters of the fact that despite the fact that the Democrats have been able to move legislation out of the House and even at times out of the Senate that a good deal of of the top priorities of Congressional leadership have not been signed into law.

I do not believe that this is something that will necessarily happen. But it is worth bearing in mind as the Senate Democrats move forward with this procedure -- particularly as we strive to shape the debate over the debate.

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Senate Republicans Filibuster Troop Readiness Measure

Well, the Republicans were at it again in top form today. Unsurprising news, I know. The Senate today took up an amendment sponsored by Jim Webb that would have improved military readiness and eased the burden on the American soldier by mandating that troops should have a period of rest equal to their time on active duty in combat. But rather than allowing an up-or-down vote on the amendment -- and it's usually the case that amendments get up-or-down votes, which in this case would have yielded a majority in favor of the amendment -- Senate Republicans instead opted to mount a filibuster, denying cloture on the measure.

The results of the vote have not yet been posted on the Senate's website, but the measure failed on a cloture vote of 56 to 41. I wasn't watching C-SPAN 2 during the vote so I wasn't making my own tally, but I'm hearing that Republican Senators like Pete Domenici, who were portrayed in the media as having broken with the President and the pro-war faction of the GOP on Iraq, voted in favor of a filibuster of this measure. It would come as little surprise if these Senators did not follow their words with actual action.

I'll do a breakdown of the vote when it's finally posted, but below the fold, Senator Webb's statement preceding the vote...

Update [2007-7-11 14:30:9 by Todd Beeton]: The only Republicans to vote for cloture were Norm Coleman, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, John Sununu, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith and John Warner (of whom all but Snowe are up for re-election next year.) As this handy chart reminds us, of the six up for re-election, five (Coleman, Collins, Hagel, Smith and Warner) had voted to end debate on the withdrawal timeline bill. So, on this measure alone, we've only gained one vote -- that of Sununu.

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What Ramifications will the GOP Filibuster on Iraq Bring?

On the front page of The Washington Post Wednesday, Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray report that Senate Republicans' hard edged tactics on Iraq -- taking the nearly unprecedented step of threatening to filibuster any amendment that would help bring an end to the war -- could backfire.

Facing crumbling support for the war among their own members, Senate Republican leaders yesterday sought to block bipartisan efforts to force a change in the American military mission in Iraq.

But the GOP leadership's use of a parliamentary tactic requiring at least 60 votes to pass any war legislation only encouraged the growing number of Republican dissenters to rally and seek new ways to force President Bush's hand. They are weighing a series of new proposals that would change the troops' mission from combat to counterterrorism, border protection and the training of Iraqi security forces.

"I think we should continue to ratchet up the pressure -- in addition to our words -- to let the White House know we are very sincere," said Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who broke with the president last month.

In some respects it's easy to see how heavy handed tactics by Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership in the Senate could begin to turn off some members -- and not only the handful who are beginning to become cognizant of the fact that they are going to have a heck of a time trying to run for reelection in 2008. For a wavering member, a with us or against us, all or nothing ultimatum on Iraq could actually expedite a move into the anti-war position.

That said, read the article more closely and you can see that these perceived negative consequences for the pro-war Republicans might not be all that they are cracked up to be. Neither in the article nor in other reporting has there been much of an indication that Senators like George Voinovich -- or John Warner or Pete Domenici or Susan Collins or Richard Lugar or almost any of them on the Republican side of the aisle -- have a willingness to do what it takes to bring forward an end to the Iraq War. Sure, they'd be willing to support the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group -- recommendations that might have made a difference had they been implemented last year when they were released but today would do little to either improve the situation on the ground in Iraq or help move us closer to an end to the war -- but they remain unwilling to support legislation that would actually mandate the draw down of forces from Iraq with the goal of ending U.S. military involvement any time before the end of the Bush presidency.

Atrios put it well last week when he wrote,

[T]rying to change our Iraq policy involves more than just getting behind some piece of legislation or another which is unlikely to pass. It involves a willingness to get behind just about anything that forces a change in policy, even if you're not fully on board with those things because you consider them to be better than the status quo of "staying the course" to preserve the fragile ego of the idiot manchild.

I see little to no indication that the handful of Republican Senators mentioned above who are reportedly wavering on the issue of Iraq will actually go forward and take the steps necessary to end the war -- let alone the 17 Republican Senators that it would take to overturn a presidential veto. So while there may be some negative ramifications for pro-war Senate Republicans as a result of their obstructionist tactics on Iraq, they will likely be limited to the sphere of of public opinion, which, however potentially impactful on the 2008 elections, will not likely hasten an end to the war.

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