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The Struggle Ahead

The TNR Congressional Roundup

Over the next few days, a group of Congressional experts will try to answer the big questions that came out of the Capitol last year: Were the Democrats as hapless as the press made them out to be? How could've they been more effective in meeting those filibustering Republicans head-on? What happened with the timetable for withdrawal? And, hey, where's Rahm when you need him? You can read their responses here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven.

From: Norman Ornstein

To: Michelle Cottle and Eve Fairbanks

Subject: The Struggle Ahead

Interesting question about Rahm, Eve. I am a big Rahm Emanuel fan--he is a great strategist, and while he is plenty tough, he actually has been one Democratic leader who has kept an open dialogue with several House Republicans, in particular his fellow Illinoisan Ray LaHood (who will be sorely missed.) Rahm has a solid intellectual understanding of the dynamics in the House and why achieving reform and a real measure of accomplishment is important. But he and the other leaders have learned, painfully, that coordinating a strategy and making it work is not an easy task--and, of course, is a task made infinitely tougher when the president decides to veto rather than negotiate (or more important, decides not to veto and then negotiate). The president's decision during the recess to pocket veto a defense bill that passed overwhelmingly and that he demanded be acted on swiftly, with no prior opposition to a provision allowing victims of Saddam Hussein's regime to sue for reparations from the current government, underscores the headaches they all face. The president in this case stuck it to Democrats and Republicans alike, raising hackles and adding to the level of distrust for no reason.

So what can be done in the second session? There are issues on which the Democrats caved--like S-CHIP, energy, and the AMT--where they can come back and replay those debates, perhaps tinkering enough (and with early Republican participation to draft new versions) to make the outcomes somewhat different. Also, they can move much earlier with appropriations bills for next year, making sure that they avoid the endgame trap. They can try to reframe the debate over domestic surveillance. And they can work on bipartisan efforts to ease the credit crunch and respond to the likely economic jolt many voters will feel. But I don't expect major breakthroughs or a dramatically new dynamic until there is a new president in place. And even then, it will not be easy.

Eve Fairbanks is an associate editor at The New Republic. Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic. Norman Ornstein is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, in 2006, of The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann.

By Michelle Cottle, Eve Fairbanks, and Norman Ornstein