By LISA MASCARO
Las Vegas Sun
October 09, 2006
When Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his counterpart in the House unveiled the Democratic platform for the 2006 elections back in July, there was little appetite for the news. Democrats were hardly able to generate the hype that surrounded Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, credited with helping Republicans in their astonishing 54-seat sweep into power in the House of Representatives in 1994.
Reid and his staff laid out the party's agenda in recent interviews with the Sun:
No, there won't be new taxes. And Democrats won't waste their time trying to impeach Bush.
But there will be a robust domestic agenda to reverse policies of the Republican-led Congress. Boost the minimum wage. Preserve Social Security. Tuition tax credits for college. End the billions of dollars of oil company subsidies, and use the money instead to develop renewable energy sources. Pay-as-you-go government to reduce Bush's record deficit spending.
If Democrats want more money to fund programs, Reid said, "it can't come from new taxes, it can't come from deficit spending."
And there will be a change in direction on the war in Iraq - the most pressing issue for many voters this fall.
Reid said if Democrats take power, they would work to redeploy troops off the battlefields. Renew efforts to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Fully implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. Rebuild the military, which some estimates show needs a $75 billion investment to bring it back up to pre war levels of readiness.
Improving the situation in Iraq would not come easily, Reid said in his office last week. "We have to start someplace. This administration has dug us a hole, a very, very big hole. But I have confidence and faith this country can dig out. But it's not going to come overnight."
Polls show Democrats are well within striking distance of picking up the 15 seats they need to take control of the House for the first time since the Gingrich revolution.
The Senate is a trickier. Reid is confident of picking up as many as six seats, but Democrats will need seven if Sen. Robert Menendez loses the fight for his political life in New Jersey.
Reid doesn't have the panache of Pelosi. The House Minority Leader described a breathless schedule of her first 100 hours if Democrats take over the lower chamber and she becomes the first Madam Speaker in history in an interview last week with the Associated Press.
But their priorities are almost the same. The two talk regularly about strategy and have been pounding their "New Direction" agenda ever since they released it together over the summer.
Republicans mock the Democrats' platform as nothing more than recycled ideas.
Plus the Democrats have stumbled repackaging the platform under different banners - New Direction for America, Six for '06, and Together, America Can Do Better.
The Democratic agenda is nothing but a "repackaged campaign platform" following years of obstruction of Republican priorities, Republican National Committee spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "Republicans have been in Congress making the tax burden lower, fighting an aggressive war against terrorism. It doesn't need to be repackaged and dressed up for campaign politics."
Political scientist Wendy J. Schiller, who studies Congress at Brown University, said Democrats have to be careful what they wish for. Even if they take one or both houses, it will be difficult to make broad changes in the final two years of the Bush administration. The smartest thing for Democrats to do if they gain majorities is push Bush to articulate his plan for getting out of Iraq and battle the budget deficit.
And then they need to look ahead to 2008 and show voters they are the party to keep in power - when they will also have a shot at the White House.
Democrats will have a limited time to show the country what they can do, she added, and Reid will have a tough job keeping the party on track as senators start pushing their own priorities.
"They've got to use the majority as a bully pulpit for the Democratic Party's positions on the war, on energy, on deficits and balanced budgets," Schiller said. "What they have to do is position themselves as the party that can govern."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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