Now that Congress is back in session, General Petraeus and Ambassaador Crocker have said their piece on Capitol Hill, and Rhambo and Pelosi have decided that going after deadbeat former administration officials is not a priority, one has to wonder, what is the priority of this Congress at this time?

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the FY’08 budget.

Few people probably remember this, and fewer cared at the time, but this Congress came into office with no budget. It was January 31 before the House voted to pass the budget that the Republican led 109th left them and February 14th before the Senate passed it.

This may not seem like a big deal, but considering what was left to do this Congress has done quite a lot of things that most of us don’t really think about that are necessary to keep this nation running.

So we come to the FY’08 budget. Bush is threatening a veto on 9 of 12 2008 budget bills for just over $25 billion in additional spending. That spending includes money for infrastructure, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. That $25b amounts to $83/person for things that we elected Democrats to do.

My take is that this is something that Democrats feel they can win, and Lord do they need a win right now.

The President, always adept at keeping the beltway punditocracy singing his song, has chipped away at the resolve of many moderate Democrats, using much the same rhetoric that he would use to defeat them in elections…playing the left against the “middle”. It’s divide and conquer. Despite dismal poll numbers, this strategy continues to give him positive policy results.

Last month, the nomination of Judge Leslie Southwick was allowed to go to the full Senate after some serious wooing of Dianne Feinstein. While things like this can drive even the most moderate Democrat crazy they are to be expected. It’s a basic rule of the many versus the few.

President Bush, and the Administration in general is the few. While he has many surrogates, those surrogates largely tow the line of the Administration. These individuals may have differing ideas about the minutiae of Administration policy, the media, in favor of the larger Administration narrative, largely ignores differences.

The many is the Congress. For Congress to speak with one voice takes a Herculean effort that will be as satisfying as weak chicken broth for the base of each party involved. This is why, no matter what the Congress accomplishes; it will be unsatisfying to a potential majority, or at least large minority of individuals. Further, with the challenge of 535 “voices” on the Hill, competing for airtime and money for their districts, the possibility of a unifying narrative, even for the Majority party, is virtually nil. This perpetuates the myth, pushed by the Administration, that the Congress is incapable of handling the business of the nation.

With all this said, let’s revisit my earlier idea…Democrats feel they can win on the budget and boy howdy do they need a win.

The budget is one of the things that Democrats are actually somewhat united on. In order to tackle some of the more divisive issues such as Iraq and the DOJ scandal, Democrats need to win something, anything, to keep their caucus from further fracturing and to generate some good press for the leadership, both in the House, and the Senate, where many Democratic initiatives are seeing the greatest resistance. Apparently Pelosi and Emanuel feel that the budget will do this, and they may be right, but the fight with the Administration will be long and hard. Democrats need to come into this with some serious backbone to win, and the opposition narrative is already emerging.

With the looming budget fight now in the Senate, House leadership is loathe to start any action that may result in losing support for 12 appropriations bills that passed the House by large, bipartisan margins. Going after Meirs and other former and current administration officials may be viewed as a battle that could lose the war. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it, or that any kind of deal has been cut, they just want to get the ball closer to the red zone before they go long for a touchdown.

We can assume that at least one budget veto is assured. There’s no way that this President is going to let the Democratic Congress score a victory without some resistance. By not actively pursuing a contempt vote in the House, Pelosi hopes that support from moderate Republicans and Blue Dogs will not disappear in the aftermath of a bloody fight over Iraq, or other contentious issues, allowing for a veto override/victory over the President.

In the Senate, the picture is not so clear. Majority Leader Reid has little power to force things through, and poking the bear in the Senate will likely end up a stunning defeat at the hands of Lieberman and some of the more conservative Democrats like the Nelson twins (Ben – NE and Bill – FL).

So, it’s a waiting game…waiting for the Senate, and the President to show their hands. Pelosi and Emanuel are saying late September or early October before any real movement. I expect the Bush Administration to drag the appropriations bills out as long as humanly possible. This is annoying and disheartening for a base of supporters who saw the new majority in Congress as a means to stop the Iraq madness and get some of what we have lost in the past 7 years back before the election of a new President. These things are still possible. We just have to be patient and ready. We have to let the leadership know that letting us down in the long term is not an option, and that they will be held accountable. Otherwise, we’re no better than the Republicans, and I just can’t live with that.

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