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Democrats Tout Earlier Victories

Majority Boasts, Even as Health Care Teeters

Though Congressional Democrats have been frustrated by their inability to forge a workable health care reform bill, the majority party is still feeling somewhat buoyed by earlier legislative accomplishments that they can tout during the monthlong August recess.

After all, Democrats have passed feel-good bills, such as a credit card consumer protection measure, equal pay legislation, a bill to regulate tobacco products and an expansion of children’s health insurance. Plus, they can argue that they’ve undertaken the hard business of governing, by passing a 2010 budget, a supplemental war spending bill and an economic stimulus plan.

They’ve also completed some other less-noticed measures — such as an omnibus lands bill — that contain important pet projects for various Members.

“We’ve had a very productive six months, but there’s much more to do,— said Rodell Mollineau, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “The challenges that lie ahead, while they may look difficult, they are achievable.—

Even with overwhelming majorities in both chambers, Mollineau said Democrats still need Republicans to be engaged in the process.

“Republicans need to decide what’s more important — scoring political points and denying President [Barack] Obama victories or helping this nation recover from the crises they created in the first place,— Mollineau said.

The rapid pace of action that Democrats set early this year seems to have made it nearly impossible for Republicans to charge them with the dreaded “do-nothing— Congress tag. Republican complaints these days actually are trending toward accusing Obama and Hill Democrats of taking on too many legislative endeavors and moving too quickly to try to get them done.

“If you look at 1993 — the last time we had a first-term Democratic president — the stories written about Bill Clinton were about the stumbles he had made,— one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “The questions in 1993 for Bill Clinton at this point [in his presidency] weren’t, Is he doing too much?’ It was, Can he get anything done?’ That’s a huge difference.—

[IMGCAP(1)]Republicans, however, said the Democrats’ full-plate agenda is exactly why their health care efforts appear to be floundering.

“With the American people overwhelmingly concerned about out-of-control spending and deficits, it’s really hard to see how the Democrats can throw themselves a party,— one House Republican leadership aide said. “Their ineffective trillion-dollar stimulus coupled with a job-killing [climate change] bill are two of the primary reasons Democrats are having such a hard time with health care.—

While it looks highly unlikely that either chamber will pass a health care bill before August, Democrats are still hoping to try to leave town on a high note. In the Senate, for example, the session may end with the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina Supreme Court justice.

The House will have completed at least 11 of the 12 annual spending bills by the time Members of that chamber go home. And House leaders are likely to use the month of August to crow about passage of their controversial climate change bill, despite relentless GOP attacks against it and continued Democratic angst about the narrow vote.

Still, Democrats are likely to face heat from constituents over the lack of a health care plan or, perhaps worse, the current proposals that Members are weighing for reform. With that in mind, Democrats recognize they cannot spend the month looking back at what they’ve accomplished so far.

“Will that be our main message? No,— Mollineau said. “That will be part of the message, but we’ll be doing a lot of looking forward — looking forward to health care, looking forward to climate change and continuing our efforts to strengthen the economy.—