Democrats already have abandoned their promise to immediately implement all the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission because some would require solving nettlesome jurisdictional issues in Congress. They will pass federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but might not be able to override a presidential veto. They want to cut interest rates on student loans, but that can be expensive at a time when they also want to impose pay-as-you-go rules mandating that new spending has to be paid for with tax increases or spending cuts.
An important political consequence of the Democratic takeover is that it liberates Republicans from the compulsion they had felt to abandon their principles in order to try to protect their majority. As Nancy Pelosi took the speaker's gavel, President Bush sounded the sort of clarion calls on fiscal responsibility --endorsing a balanced budget in five years -- and earmark reform that he never did when free-spending, earmarking Republicans controlled the Hill. He hopes to box in Democrats with their own anti-deficit rhetoric and force them either to forgo major new spending or embrace politically perilous tax increases.
This is the kind of choice Democrats were able to avoid in November when they became a default majority -- a majority elected not for what it stood for, but for what it was not. Eventually, Democrats will have to move beyond their default position if they want a record of substantive accomplishment after the pageantry and symbolism of the 100 hours have passed.