Senate Legislative Wins May Be Short-Lived
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Senate Democrats this week completed their first 100 days in power. And if you listen to the Democrats, they're off to a great start. There's only the problem that most of the legislation that they have passed has yet to be signed into law. Democrats are hoping that more Republicans will break ranks and vote with them in the future.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: To hear majority leader Harry Reid tell it, Senate Democrats' first hundred days at the helm have been a mission accomplished.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevadaer): Our first order of business was passing the toughest lobbying ethics reform legislation in the nation's history - and we've done that. We've voted to give working Americans a much deserved and long-overdue raise in the minimum wage. We passed to continue a resolution that enacted tough spending limits, and earmarks were eliminated. We passed every single recommendation in the 9/11 Commission after they languished in Congress for years, with nothing being done.
WELNA: There's also the annual budget Democrats managed to pass. But like the ethics reform, it needed no presidential signature. The other bills Reid touts having passed have yet to become law. Iraq remains the biggest unresolved issue, and many days in the Senate chamber have been spent wrangling over the war.
New York Democrat Charles Schumer insists it's been time well spent.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): It's obvious we are fighting every day to change the course in Iraq. We are winning that fight. We're not losing it, we are winning it - and we are winning it because the American people are with us.
WELNA: Democrats did, in fact, manage to pass an emergency war spending bill that includes a timeline for troop withdrawals. Their focus on the unpopular war has rattled its supporters, among them Arizona Republican and presidential candidate John McCain.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I'm very disappointed that we continue to take up the issue of the Iraq war, time after time after time.
Unidentified Man: In terms of oversight?
Sen. MCCAIN: No, in terms of votes and debate on the floor.
WELNA: Those votes have repeatedly put senators on record regarding the war. Still, Minority Whip Trent Lott says Democrats have mainly been posturing.
Senator WHIP TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): Let them have the first hundred days to make their political statements. Congratulations. It's over. Now let's get on with the people's business. The score is nothing to nothing. They've scored no points, we've scored no points.
WELNA: Indeed, some on the Democratic caucus clearly are frustrated with their first hundred days, including freshman Vermont independent Bernie Sanders.
Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): We passed a strong minimum wage bill. Who was holding it up? We passed stem cell research. Who was holding it up? We have changed the direction in Iraq. Who is holding that up? And I think it's very clear. It's the White House. It is the Republican minority.
WELNA: And that Republican minority has largely held together during these first hundred days. Boston University congressional historian Julian Zelizer says that's kept Democrats from getting more accomplished.
Professor JULIAN ZELIZER (History Department, Boston University): Ultimately, the Democrats can only succeed legislatively if the Republicans openly break with each other. But until Republicans break, and they've been pretty disciplined so far in terms of their voting, it's very hard for the Democrats to get legislation and they haven't. I mean that has not been one of their successes so far.
WELNA: But that could change. Democrat Charles Schumer says polls unmistakably show widespread disapproval of President Bush.
Sen. SCHUMER: The Republican senators get it. And there's huge amount of grumbling in their caucus. And they don't know what to do. I mean, they tend to be very good soldiers. But our belief is, sooner or later something's going to give there.
WELNA: Only then would Democrats have the veto-approved majority needed for their passed bills to become law.
David Welna, NPR News.