What would you do if your pollster told you that you have only six months left with huge congressional majorities? How would you spend your time? Would you try to improve your chances of recovery or take out your bucket list -- the dream items you've always wanted to pass but never had the time to try -- knowing this could be your last chance to make them a reality?
Those are the questions facing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House as they map out the rest of the 2010 legislative calendar and see foreboding midterm elections waiting for them in November. Although they may not lose their majorities, as some have predicted
, it's all but certain that Democrats will lose at least a few, and likely a lot, of seats in Congress, making the job of passing their top priorities all the more difficult as time goes on.
To get a look ahead, Politics Daily spoke with several senior Democratic aides familiar with the congressional agenda for the spring and summer. It represents a blend of tasks Democrats have no choice but to tackle; items they believe will serve them well in November -- either as accomplishments to tout or examples of Republican intransigence; and vanity projects, pieces of legislation that probably will never pass, but Democrats can use to assure their supporters, "At least we tried."
Here's what to expect:
Democrats know their fate in November will be determined largely by the health of the economy, and many believe their chances of losing the House increase exponentially if unemployment remains above 10 percent in October. To that end, the House is planning another jobs bill later this month and the Senate voted Monday night, 60-34, to move forward on another short-term extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits. To double down on the jobs message, Democrats, including Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), hammered Republicans Monday for objecting to their pending unemployment legislation, accusing GOP senators of "extremely offensive attacks" and "dilatory tactics."
Wall Street Reform.
Look for the financial-services reform bill to be the next item on the Senate agenda after jobs. Not only do Democrats think revamping Wall Street is overdue, cracking down on big banks and hedge funds has the added benefit of being a populist rallying cry at a time when Democrats desperately need to fire up their base. Chris Dodd passed his bill out of the Banking Committee last month on a party-line vote, but he'll need Republican support to give the Federal Reserve new powers over banks, stock brokerages, hedge funds and traders. Dodd also wants to create a new agency within the Fed to serve as a watchdog for financial products, and is nearly daring Republicans to vote against the tough-on-fat-cats legislation.
The Supreme Challenge.
Should Obama pick a moderate to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens because it's an election year, or go for a liberal to fill Stevens' shoes, just because he still can? Democrats counting votes in the Senate are acutely aware that even though they're one vote short of a filibuster-proof majority now, 59 votes in the Senate could be as good as it gets for any Obama Supreme Court nominee in the near future. Any fight will get ugly, but Obama has to make sure it's a fight he can win.
Climate Change Legislation.
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) are teaming up with Republican Lindsey Graham on a bill to cap carbon emissions while also expanding nuclear energy production and domestic drilling. Climate change remains a Democratic base favorite, and liberals know that even with a Republican along for the ride, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill could be their last, best chance to enact a bill with carbon cap before Republicans strengthen their hand against any form of climate change come November.
. Who says immigration reform is too hot to handle in an election year? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently thinks there's no better time to bring this hot button issue up for a vote, especially when he's on the ballot in Nevada, where Latinos make up 25 percent of the population and 11 percent of the electorate. Latino leaders are wary of moving forward for a Senate vote if the effort looks doomed to demagoguery and failure, but they have also complained that President Obama has not done enough to move immigration reform forward. On Saturday, Reid not only promised a Senate vote on the bill, he promised it would pass Congress this year and become law, "just like we passed health care reform."
A Citizens United "Fix."
Democratic aides say a surprise addition to their April/ May agenda could be a bill to limit the effects of the recent Supreme Court decision that ruled that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money in federal elections, including House and Senate races, of course. Hours after the ruling, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen announced they would hold hearings to examine ways to mitigate the court's decision and have now introduced legislation
to ban contributions from foreign-owned companies, to improve transparency and to limit coordination between candidates and their corporate allies.
Paying for the Wars
. And finally, paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shows up at the bottom of the list, not because it isn't important, but because it's the fight Democrats least want to have, because they'll be fighting among themselves. Pelosi and Reid must bring up an emergency spending bill to pay for the two wars, and will have to pass them over the objections of their most liberal members and those who say the American commitments overseas have gone on too long. Pelosi once called the war-spending bill the hardest vote she ever had to whip, and said last December that making the case for war financing will be President Obama's job this time around.
The Senate gavels into session at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and the House will be in session by 2 p.m.