New Congress, Same Old Story

Friday the 13th, for some, marks a day of trepidation. It's bad luck, messy mojo and a horror film favorite. A triskaidekaphobic fears it and supernaturalists study it.

But for congressional Democrats, this Friday the 13th marks 100 days in power, perhaps only increasing the darkness of the day for the Republican majority that was replaced.

So what have the Democrats accomplished in their 14 weeks? Not much if bills becoming laws is the bar.

New Congress, Same Old Story

Democrats spent Thursday touting their accomplishments: They've passed a minimum wage hike, new lobbying rules and implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations; there's a new budget without much of the traditional pork spending, a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and a rollback of stem cell federal funding restrictions.

Alas, despite the Democrats sweat and even some moderate Republican support, none of these measures has become law; none have even reached the president's desk for a veto -- but that didn't stop the celebration.

"In the Senate's first 100 days at work, we have passed legislation that cleans up Washington, gives working Americans a raise, cuts taxes for working families, restores fiscal responsibility and allows federal funding for stem cell research," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor.

"Democrats," the Nevada Democrat continued, "have also made the homeland more secure and continue to hold this administration responsible for its failed policies in Iraq."

The president has pledged he'll veto a number of the bills passed by the Senate but he hasn't gotten the chance. In most cases, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate haven't agreed on one version of the same bill, making for some busy days with few tangible results. They have to reconcile the differences and pass all the bills over again before they can be sent down Pennsylvania Avenue for President Bush's signature.

Senate by the Numbers

The Senate has been in session for 54 days, compared to the 41 days during Republican control at this point in 2006. (Granted, 2006 was a midterm election year.) The Democrats have held 128 votes; last year, at the 100-day mark, there had only been 90.

Republicans contend that while all these bills have passed in various forms in the two houses of Congress, they haven't really gotten much done.

The Democrats, however, have passed an enormous bill funding the federal government for one year. And to do this, they sidestepped the normal committee and amendment process.

Playing on the Democratic campaign slogan "6 for '06," Republicans distributed a list of things Democrats have not passed, calling it "0 for 7 in '07."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., said that divided government gives a "unique opportunity to do some very significant things" in Washington, pointing to the unique relationship between Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, D-Mass., and President Ronald Reagan in the '80s and welfare reform in '90s.

But, he said, "Regretfully, we are here at the end of the 100 days. Our opponents, the Democratic majority in the Senate played small ball. They have pursued their poll-tested, highly partisan agenda and the result of that is that nothing has been accomplished."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the former majority leader who is climbing his way back up the ladder of Republican leadership, said, "It has been a lot of action, a lot of talk, not a lot of days in session and no accomplishments."

Lott, whose reign as majority leader was cut short by controversy, continued, "When is the Democratic leader and the majority going to realize that in the Senate you have to work together? You've got to find issues that are important to the American people that you can act together on in some modicum of bipartisanship."

A Congress Divided Against Itself

Democrats have had votes in both houses of Congress on most of their agenda items, but they have passed different versions largely, in most cases, to keep support from wavering Democrats and gain support from moderate Republicans, thus ensuring passage without producing one uniform bill.

Three of the six items (raising the minimum wage, implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations and lifting the ban on federal funding for new stem cell lines) are in conference between the bodies to find middle ground.

The Senate has not yet voted on changing student loan interest rates, altering the Medicare prescription drug plan or a new, more comprehensive energy policy -- all pledges from the Democratic majority. And, indeed, those items are on the Senate calendar.

Oversight, Not out of Mind

Despite a shaky legislative batting average, Democrats have made major strides -- and created a number of White House headaches -- in the area of oversight.

The majority brings power over committees, and committees come with the ability to hold hearings, issue subpoenas and focus media attention on everything from the Iraq War to fired prosecutors.

"Some people say, 'What about all the investigations? That's something the Democrats have done that's good," said Lott.

"Well, perhaps," Lott said. "But if you are tangled up completely in trying to have partisan political investigations, how do you have time to actually produce legislation?"

Asked if the Republican agenda was simply to block and delay the Democratic agenda, McConnell said, "Our agenda is to do things on a bipartisan basis."

And McConnell reminded reporters of the Democrats' razor-thin majority in the Senate.

"You've got to remember that we've still got a pretty robust minority in the Senate and we've still got a Republican president. So do you want to play games or do you want to accomplish something?"