'World News' Political Insights: Democrats Find Agenda Stuck in Swamp

This must be what the swamp feels like.

Democrats had hoped to use the final sprint to this fall's congressional elections to highlight the choices they want to place before voters. The plan was to use the remaining time before November to force Republicans into politically perilous votes on energy policy, education and other domestic policies, and taxes and spending.

But they now stand ready to lose another week of messaging -- and events are coming together that could blot out much of the remaining legislative schedule.

Barring a last-minute deal, the House Ethics Committee on Thursday will outline charges being brought against Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who was one of the most powerful members of Congress before being forced to step down from his perch atop the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year.

VIDEO:Rangel Another Drag on Democrats, AgendaPlay

That's likely to make this a third straight week where Democrats fail to control their own message. Last week's controversy over the ouster of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod followed close on the heels of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' remark about the possibility of Democrats losing control of the House.

Democratic leaders are pressing to reach a deal with the defiant Rangel, to avoid the spectacle of a public trial this fall. The allegations are particularly troublesome to Democrats because of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's celebrated pledge to lead the "most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."

But even aside from the Rangel matter, Democrats are struggling to maintain a coherent message going into the fall.

This week will bring House debate over funding for the war in Afghanistan. Now stripped of domestic initiatives, the measure will highlight deep divisions inside the House Democratic caucus over the course of the war -- and figures to draw a significant number of Democratic votes in favor of cutting off funding altogether.

On Thursday -- the same day Rangel's ethics charges are set to be made public -- Arizona's controversial new immigration law is set to go into effect. That's another area where Democrats are seriously divided, with embattled lawmakers in the South and West particularly uncomfortable with the current party line.

And coming this fall: a major debate over taxes and budget deficits, one where both parties like their chances and the political values the discussion displays, but where Democrats are again more divided than Republicans.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said on ABC's "This Week" today that President Obama stands by his pledge to let tax cuts for families making $250,000 or more expire at the end of this year. The president does want to extend tax cuts to small businesses and "95 percent of working Americans," Geithner said.

"I don't think it should be a battle," he said.

But there's little chance of that. Republicans are eager to make the argument that the president and the Democratic Congress are set to hike taxes in the middle of a historic recession.

A growing number of moderate Democrats appear likely to support them in calls to at least temporarily extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, until the economy begins expanding again.

Democrats desperately want to avoid a worst-case scenario where legislative paralysis would leave them unable to act on any of the expiring tax cuts before the November elections. That would leave millions of middle-income taxpayers voting with the expectation that their taxes are about to go up under Democratic control of Washington.

That's hardly the kind of choice Democrats have in mind when they talk about reframing the agenda this fall.