I don't know if everyone is feeling the same as I do, but crowing about a "great couple weeks for Democrats" when all we did was forestall (in most cases temporarily) a bunch of far right programs doesn't add up to much.  Sure, it's great to save ANWR, or stop the Patriot Act and the reverse-Robin hood budget for a few weeks, but this is playing defense.  I understand that without power in Washington, this is what's going to have to stand in for victory, a fact that has seemed to escape Ron Brownstein in today's thumbsucker piece in the LA Times.  However, leading into 2006, there's a tremendous opportunity for House Democrats to lead, force a real agenda, and raise awareness throughout the first month of the year.

See, the Republicans in the House don't want to return Congress to an open session because they're afraid Tom DeLay will still be tied up in his money laundering trial in Texas.  If Congress convenes before then, surely a fight will commence in the GOP caucus to elect a new Majority Leader.  So they're talking about delaying (pardon the pun) the start of the session until Jan. 31.

This is an opening a mile wide for Democrats to show sharp differences between the parties.  Simply put, Democrats in the House need to show up for work on January 3.  When they find Congress is not open, they need to take to the steps of the Capitol, and hold press availabilities assailing the Republicans for refusing to do the work of the American people in 2006.

But that's not all.  They need to actually engage in a shadow House for the cameras.  In press conferences, policy statements, and whatever informal hearings they can hold throughout the month of January, Pelosi and the Dems need to act like they're the only people in Congress, and show exactly what they would do if they were in the leadership.  Pelosi needs to come out and say things like, "Today, I am submitting a bill to raise the minimum wage for all Americans up to $7 an hour... at least I would submit it, if the Republicans would open the chamber."  And you do that for every single issue.  In other words, Dems should set the agenda in the media in the absence of the House GOP.  This needs a catchier name, but so far I've got "The House in Exile."

There is absolutely no downside to this.  If the Republicans whine and cry about it, they can come back and open up the House so Congress can get back to work.  If they choose to ignore it, the Democrats can get up on the Capitol steps every single day and get media coverage.  But every member, and I mean EVERY SINGLE DAMN ONE, needs to plant their butts in Washington for this to work.  How much starker a contrast do you want?  Democrats want to do their job, Republicans want to save their patron saint Tom DeLay by staying at home.

If the Repubs get enough bad PR that they have to return to Washington and open up Congress, then the floor fight over DeLay is likely to simmer over, which would be another win.  There's no reason not to do this.  It allows Dems to step into the news vaccuum as the calendar flips to an election year.  It allows us to rebut the "party with no ideas" meme, by advancing a national progressive agenda, and flipping the "obstruction" label right around on the Republicans, who are obstructing by refusing to open the door of the House.

This is a stunt that would drive the debate.  The Alito hearings are going to get their due early in the month, sure, but this would work, without question.  We need to plead with our leaders in the House to LEAD.

Originally posted to dday on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 01:15 PM PST.


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