WASHINGTON -- The Democrats, flush from their 2006 election gains, took over Congress in January, promising to end the legislative stalemate and pass a sweeping agenda for reform.
Nearly six months later, they have backpedaled on their promises of reform; they've made little progress on major legislation; their job-approval ratings have taken a nosedive; and there's talk for the first time that House Democrats could lose seats to the Republicans in 2008.
They came into power pledging to curb wasteful pork projects that had hit a record $23 billion in 2006. Then they passed a budget resolution that would increase nondefense discretionary spending by $23 billion more than President Bush proposed. A coincidence?
"Taxpayers -- and even lawmakers -- want to know how much of this new spending will go toward pork projects. But House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (of Wisconsin) has reversed earlier transparency pledges by vowing to keep all House pork projects secret until the appropriations bills have passed the House," complains budget watchdog Brian Riedl at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
In a memo circulated on Capitol Hill last week, Riedl said that, contrary to the Democrats' promises to end "earmarking" of line-item requests for pork projects back home, the practice continues at full throttle.
"Obey claims to have received 32,000 earmark requests, an average of 74 from each of the 435 House members," Riedl said.
Last week, as the pork battle grew hotter, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio accused Obey and the Democrats of creating a "slush fund for secret earmarks," charging that "the interest of the American people is being subverted."
Pork was a major issue that contributed to the GOP's losses last year, but Boehner has put his party back on the side of the pork busters and the fight for fiscal discipline. Through most of last week, he and his ground troops kept up a steady drumbeat of press releases, statements and floor speeches that threw the Democrats on the defensive and gained a proposed deal to open up the earmarks to more scrutiny and legislative challenges.
Whatever happens next, the Republicans are back on the right fiscal message that will be one of the GOP's campaign themes in next year's elections: The Democrats' addiction to big-government spending.
While Democrats were feeling the heat in the House on spending, very little else was getting done in either chamber in terms of legislative reforms.
That's because Democrats were devoting much of their time to a seemingly endless series of politically motivated hearings -- inquisition is a more accurate term -- to bring down the Bush administration.