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How to Dismantle a Legislative Majority

Congressional Democrats think Americans want what they’re selling.

12:00 AM, Jul 1, 2010 • By GARY ANDRES
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If legislation were dirt, Democrats would have piled up a mountain of it over the past 18 months, digging themselves in a deep political hole in the process.

How to Dismantle a Legislative Majority

The House that Nancy (Pelosi) built continues to ramrod new policies through the legislative process, hoping the bustle will salve America’s sour mood. Senate Democrats move a little more slowly due to different institutional rules, yet their hearts are in the same place: the more legislative production the better.

That’s what legislators do, after all.  New laws are like seed corn, intended to grow public support.

But it’s not working.   The congressional majority keeps passing initiatives they say respond to the public’s desire for “change.” Yet the combination of current liberal initiatives and uncertainty about future policies now seriously hampers economic growth and business risk-taking. It’s also taking a toll on congressional standing with voters.

Gallup reinforced this point last week, reporting Congress’s job approval rate hovering near an all time low of 20 percent.

Perceived liberalism in the lawmaking process may also impact Americans’ ideological self-identification.  Gallup issued a separate study recently, demonstrating a significant rise in the number of Americans describing themselves as conservatives since the 2008 election.

Near record numbers now also say that the Democratic Party is “too liberal.”

Congressional Democrats must have heavy heads not to hear and see all this. Weighed down with tin ears and political blinders, they think Americans want what they’re selling.

True, some partisan Democrats and their media cheerleaders do. New York Times columnist Gail Collins swooned about Nancy Pelosi last week. Writing a love song fit for a Democratic National Committee rally, Collins gushed that the California Democrat was “the most powerful woman in the country, the most fearless person on Capitol Hill and on track to be one of the most productive speakers in history.”

But independents worry that “productive” translates to ideologically indulgent, like playing political roulette with other people’s money.  In fact, Gallup tracking data on ideology shows a significant rise in conservatism among independents over the last two years.  And some point to the Democratic agenda as a primary cause of this shift.

Michael Boland, a former senior House GOP leadership aide, who now runs Dome Advisors, a Washington-based research company for institutional investors, sent out an analysis to his clients last week that sums up how Democrats’ hyperactive legislating and spending impacts independent voters.

“What motivates Democrats to push an agenda that pushes the independents away?” Boland asks. “Democrats believe in their agenda.  They believe it is why they were elected.  They believe every one of their voters deserves his or her very own subsection in their city-size 2000-plus page ‘comprehensive’ bills on federal stimulus spending, health care, energy, environment and banking. Democrats believe their body of work will boost their electoral prospects.”

In other words, every problem deserves a federal government fix using your money. Democrats reshaped the health care system, the student loan business, spent hundreds of billions on a stimulus bill, and passed massive cap and trade legislation in the House.

Their agenda is not only pushing independents away.  It’s also terrifying the folks creating jobs in this country – American businesses.

Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon CEO and chairman of the Business Roundtable, blistered the Democrats in a speech last week at the Economic Club of Washington.

“We have become somewhat troubled by a growing disconnect between Washington and the business community that is harming our ability to expand the economy and grow private-sector jobs in the U.S.,” said Seidenberg.

Writing about the Seidenberg speech, the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel said the business community now suffers from a serious case of “buyers remorse” when it comes to Democrats in Congress

Democrats argue we can get the economy humming again if more people get government employment. That’s an unsustainable and misguided goal.

CNBC’s Jim Cramer concurred Monday saying, “With no employment growth, and a fear that Washington’s anti-stock agenda will crimp the earnings of all kinds of companies across the board, the sense of doom and gloom, the Jimmy Carter-esque malaise, is almost palpable."

Stock market jitters and volatility this past week support that verdict.

Yet it’s more than just the legislative substance that bothers independents, business leaders, and others.  It’s also the congressional style. House Democrats typically pass every major bill on near party line votes.

Strategies like this may thrill Democratic partisans, but it leaves a majority wondering why the process is so divisive and polarized.

Slowing down and building more consensus would improve the Democrats’ approval numbers.  Yet that would mean modifying their agenda, a set of programs they want to enact before voters take away these politicians’ shovels in November.

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