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’Tis the Season for Hill Democrats to Lead, Not Follow

Like most Americans, this is my favorite time of the year. A time to reflect on the year past, to rejoice as we celebrate the holiday season, and to plan ahead for the coming new year. For the Democratic majority, ‘tis the season to add an additional legislative victory to its impressive — though far from breathtaking — Congressional scorecard. [IMGCAP(1)]

The holiday wish list Democrats on Capitol Hill are drawing up includes passing an important energy bill, legislation to ensure more homeowners avoid filing bankruptcy, overriding the presidential veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and changing the strategy in Iraq. With the White House Grinch ready to steal their Christmas cheer, Democrats must act boldly and stand up to President Bush.

This is the silly season in politics. Bush, who should be spending his remaining time in public office burnishing his tarnished legacy, has started off the month busily bashing Democrats. And Democrats, who have spent the past year trying to set a sensible timetable for our withdrawal from Iraq, must not relent. They must fight on behalf of voters who yearn to feel a little less anxious and a lot more celebratory this holiday season.

Bush has chosen the path of confrontation. After seven years of governing, the president seems intent on rallying his party’s radical base with stands on spending hugely unpopular with rest of America. This ill-advised course has hurt his standing as well as that of Congressional Republicans, who are struggling to distance themselves from the unpopular president.

It’s no accident that Bush lost his first veto override on the $23.2 billion Water Resources Development Act. The president’s continued stubbornness is obscuring a reality he’d like voters to overlook on Election Day: The war is going badly, the economy is weak, and people are deeply worried about their ability pay the monthly bills.

For six long years of total Republican control of Congress, Bush had a blank check to write laws, help ordinary citizens make ends meet, fix our ailing health care system, improve the environment and even change the tone in Washington, D.C. What was the result? Republicans overspent the budget, borrowed recklessly, mismanaged the war in Iraq, never made the middle class a priority and fostered an atmosphere on Capitol Hill that lacked civility and reason. With their credibility at an all-time low, the best Republicans can do is throw rocks and bleat mightily that Democrats are no better than they are.

Democrats in Congress should not sit idly by and allow the president to frame the debate this month. With the help of the Democratic presidential contenders, it’s time they frame the upcoming appropriations bills in terms of which party will put the American people first. Which party believes it’s time to help fellow Americans left suffering from seven long years of a Republican White House? Which party will generously fund public education, our infrastructure and the well-being of our brave veterans?

In answering these questions, Democrats must not stand by and let the president leave any impression that our troops will not get the support they deserve from a Democratic Congress and administration that our country so greatly deserves.

Democrats know the best way to protect our troops is to have a sound strategy in Iraq. Since Bush is either unwilling or unable to create one, Congress must step up and do the job. It’s too bad the Republican minority is willing to lower the bar and not place maximum pressure on the Maliki government to expedite the reconciliation process. We need a change in strategy and mission. Our troops deserve the holiday present only a Democratic Congress can deliver: common sense in developing a workable strategy to change our mission in Iraq.

Bush is wildly unpopular and so is the Democratic-controlled Congress. Both are unpopular because of Iraq. Bush is also unpopular because he does not address the big concerns that people have, and everything from Iraq to corruption to Katrina illustrates the incompetence of his administration.

Not only are his numbers bad, most Americans don’t believe the Republican presidential candidates offer anything on the economy and will do nothing more than ask for more tax cuts if the soft economy slides into recession.

Every poll shows that the American people are ready for change. Now, it’s time to act.

People want Congress to lead the charge and begin the change now. They want the Democrats not only to fight Bush but to offer alternatives. And if the Democrats on Capitol Hill will not lead, the party’s nominee will have no choice but to run against both the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Starting now, it’s time the Democrats on Capitol Hill put their agenda into action and let Bush be the Grinch we all know he is.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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