The imminent passage of a tough new Wall Street Reform bill will cap off a wildly productive two years for Democrats in Washington – they will have passed two pieces of sweeping legislation and an enormous $800 billion stimulus bill to deal with the ailing economy.
But the hard political paradox Democrats face is that for all their accomplishments, voters from the left, right, and center, are not impressed, and all signs point toward stiff losses if not the loss of control over one or both Houses of Congress by Democrats in November.
They hope the Wall Street reform bill will help them with voters where passing the health care reform law did not.
The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed 62 percent of voters ready to shop around for new represenatation in Congress.
Presidents regularly see their party lose seats, but the 2010 elections could be particularly severe with many political professionals predicting a wave against Democrats and the possibility of losing 30 or more seats in the House. What's more, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, is perilously close to losing his bid for reelection. Reid's loss would be a huge blow to Democrats after he helped them navigate their agenda through Congress.
Rutgers Political Scientist Ross Baker called the 111th Congress' productivity "probably the most impressive since the mid-1960s."
How notable are Democrats' accomplishments? They succeeded where 100 years of American presidents and Congresses have failed by enacting sweeping health care reform which will ultimately extend health insurance coverage to nearly every American. They reacted to the 2008 financial crisis with an $800 billion emergency spending bill to kick-start the economy. Addressing the root causes of that crisis, they oversaw the most comprehensive re-write of banking laws since the Great Depression. They also changed the way student loans will be administered, passed new rules for credit card companies and more
And they did all of it with help from no more than a handful of Republicans.
But rather than energize the electoral base that helped put Democrats in control of Congress in 2006 -- and President Obama in the White House in 2008 -- the accomplishments have often frustrated activists, who see compromised ideals and watered-down bills instead of legislative victories.
"A lot of progressives appreciate there has been an ambitious agenda. But unfortunately we have seen the legislation associated with that agenda watered down and watered down significantly," said Arshad Hasan, the executive director of Democracy for America, a PAC begun by Howard Dean with chapters in all 50 states.
Hasan's group fought mightily to include a public option in the health care reform law. And he is extremely disappointed in the Wall Street reform bill for not breaking up the biggest banks.
Progressive groups have helped more liberal candidates challenge Democrats in swing states like Pennsylvania, and more conservative states like Arkansas, with mixed success.