As they campaign for the presidency, John McCain and Barack Obama are promising a different kind of politics. The challenge is, it's a little like promising a different kind of baseball: The game is very traditional, and many things don't change.
For example, the tradition of politically timed votes in Congress. Democrats have increasingly been staging votes to highlight their differences with Republicans — a practice likely to increase as the fall election draws closer.
On Thursday, the House voted to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 weeks to jobless workers. It was the second vote in as many days on the extension, which most Republicans opposed.
As he argued against the extended unemployment benefits bill on the House floor the other day, Illinois Republican Rep. Jerry Weller took particular umbrage at the politics of it all:
"I am especially opposed to the cynical election-year maneuvering reflected in how the House is considering this important issue today," he said.
While election-year maneuvering on the House floor might not be shocking, it seems there has been an uptick of late in the stagecraft on Capitol Hill.
This week, Senate Democrats knew there was little chance their bill slapping a windfall profits tax on oil companies would pass. And in fact, it failed Tuesday morning, coming up nine votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Yet for most of the rest of the day, and the next, the Senate continued to debate the issue, to no particular end.
At one point, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley took aim at Senate leaders, who are driven around in large SUVs: "When we're paying $4 of taxpayers' money for [a gallon of] gasoline, it just irritates me to high heaven when I see these SUVs idling out here, maybe to keep the car warm in the wintertime or keep it cool in the summertime. And I saw it when the temperature around here was 60 degrees. Shut those cars off and save."
Grassley's indignation was one of the few times this week that lawmakers departed from their prepared scripts. House Republican leader John Boehner said partisanship has gotten to be a bad habit.
"Well, if you've watched what the House and, frankly, what the Senate has done all year, it's been about politics everyday all day, and I don't say this in a partisan way. It's a fact," Boehner said.
Democrats say it's not about brazen politics, but about pursuing policies aimed at helping people. Still, they wasted no time issuing press releases blasting those Republicans who voted against extending unemployment benefits. But Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs his party's campaign committee, said Democrats had the high ground.
"We think this is the right thing to do," Van Hollen said. "And therefore, we also think that the American people will agree with us that this is the right thing to do, which is why we think it's important that their constituents know how they voted. Because to the extent more people know about this, we think people will pick up the phone and call their member of Congress and say, 'Hey, are you out of touch or what?' "
And in the Senate, Democrats vow to return to the windfall profits tax and other measures aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive. It is, after all, what Republicans did when they controlled Congress.
The Senate Democrats' campaign chairman, Charles Schumer of New York, seems almost gleeful about it.
"We are going to continue to bring up these issues over and over and over again," he said. "The status quo $4 gasoline, unemployment 5.5 percent, 1 million homes in foreclosure, food prices skyrocketing, and what's their answer to all of this? No, do nothing."
Now that both parties have settled on their presidential nominees, there are likely to be even more votes where, as with the windfall profits tax, Democrats look to boost Obama while setting up difficult votes for Republican McCain. There's talk of a second economic stimulus package along the lines of what Obama has called for, and coming up, more votes on spending for the Iraq war.