In '08, a curtailed agenda for Congress
The economy and education are areas where lawmakers may break partisan gridlock.
Democrats swept into power in Congress last year with an ambitious agenda to end the war in Iraq, curb corruption, and do more to help the middle class.Skip to next paragraph
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But lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill this week are still drafting an agenda for 2008 that already is overshadowed by the presidential race – and by a pattern of partisan gridlock.
First up is unfinished business from last session.
Congress is under pressure to fix a glitch in the 2008 defense policy bill, which President Bush sent back to the House on Dec. 28. Armed services committees in the House and Senate have been working on a fix but are letting party leaders decide how far to press a confrontation with the White House over the issue.
Next, Congress has until Feb. 1 to renew a controversial terrorist-surveillance program, including whether to shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits alleging violations of privacy. The Senate, which returns next week, must reconcile two competing versions of the bill and then come to terms with the House.
In recognition of Americans' growing concerns about a slowing economy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid reached out to Mr. Bush and urged him to work with them to put together a bipartisan economic stimulus package that is "timely, targeted, and temporary," before unveiling his own plan.
"We want to work with you and the Republican leadership of the Congress to immediately develop a legislative plan based upon these principles so it can be passed and implemented into law without delay," they wrote to Bush on Jan. 11.
But Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, in a weekly Democratic radio address the next day, charged that the Bush administration "seems satisfied with the current state of the economy and the fortunes of the middle class."
"Democrats are not," he said.
"It's a bad situation. You have a polarized Congress with several members of Congress running for the presidency and an institutional battle that's been taking place between the president and the Congress. It's a recipe for not legislating," says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. "That said, there's room for Congress to find a [legislative] package that works in everybody's political interest."
One such area is more spending on roads, bridges, and other projects in members' home districts: "Pork-barrel spending programs are still in everyone's interest in an election year," says Dr. Zelizer.