Monday, April 10, 2006

Republican woes in Congress boost Democratic hopes

Republican woes in Congress boost Democratic hopes
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Collapse of vital budget legislation and a big setback on an immigration overhaul have played into Democrats' election-year plans to paint Republicans as too incompetent to run the U.S. Congress.

They also got fresh ammunition from an unlikely figure -- Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House Republican leader.

"We don't have an agreed agenda," the indicted Texas Republican said last week, shortly after he announced he would resign from the House of Representatives.

DeLay's assessment was in line with that of his political nemesis, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

"Republicans are in disarray," Pelosi said after the $2.8 trillion budget bill was abruptly yanked from the House floor and Republicans traded insults over spending priorities and bursting deficits.

On Thursday, a push by House and Senate Republicans for $70 billion in tax cuts was derailed and a tentative Senate deal on an immigration-reform bill stalled.

Lawmakers then headed out for a two-week recess.

"They (Republicans) are doing poorly," said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

"What has this session of Congress accomplished? I'm sure they can give me a list of minor technical bills but on the big things they have failed," Sabato said, citing immigration, health care and efforts to extend Bush's tax cuts.

With all 435 House seats and one-third of the 100-member Senate up for re-election in November, Democrats are encouraged by sinking approval polls for the Republican-led Congress and President George W. Bush. The president has been particularly hurt by the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.


On the domestic front, Democrats have been chipping away at Republicans' image of fiscal responsibility, never missing a chance to talk about the $3 trillion in new debt Republicans have racked up since Bush took office in 2001.

Lately, some moderate Republicans have joined Democrats in saying recent budgets have begun to hurt the poor.

House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, on the job since February, tried to put a hopeful face on a major setback, saying he'd work for a budget deal when Congress returns.

But lawmakers in the House and Senate were skeptical.

"It'll be extremely hard," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican.

The budget drives all government policy, from foreign wars to space exploration, cancer research and the distribution of health care for the poor and elderly.

"If you want to prove that you can govern, you've got to show that you can budget," said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, agreed.

"Without a budget to guide the nation's decisions about spending and tax priorities, Congress really forgoes its role of making active decisions at a time when the country faces such important fiscal challenges," she said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican, counters that his party has overseen consecutive years of hearty economic growth, despite the country being buffeted by a whopper hurricane last year, the September 11 attacks, war and a 2001 economic recession.