What's next for the Democratic party?by Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
For the first time since 1994, Democrats now control both houses of Congress and the White House. With the party's domination of Washington also comes responsibility.
Democrats must now take leadership on a host of difficult issues from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the economy, and voters who turned on the Bush administration now have a different party to hold accountable.
St. Paul, Minn. — Democrats running for Congress over the past six years have been quick to link their GOP opponents with the Bush White House.
Last year Democrat Al Franken could hardly get a sentence out without associating Republican Norm Coleman with former President George Bush.
"When George W. Bush took the wheel of the U.S. economy, he turned it sharply to the right and drove us into a ditch, and Norm Coleman has been riding shotgun all the way," said Franken.
When DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar was running for office in 2006 against Republican Mark Kennedy, she often talked about following the North Star, not the Lone Star, a reference to President Bush.
Two years later Klobuchar has the ear of the new President. She says she's been talking directly with Obama about an economic stimulus plan, and she says now is not the time for partisan politics.
"I look at this as not as much scoring political points on either way or showing you're with or against the administration. I look at it as the whole measure is going to be are we moving the country forward? Are we getting things done," said Klobuchar.
Yet, University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says there's no doubt voters will hold Democrats accountable for the state of the nation.
"Clearly the Democrats are now going to be in the blame position," said Jacobs.
And given the tough times, Jacobs said, Democrats ought to brace themselves.
"The likely truth is that within a month and I would say certainly by the summer, President Obama's approval ratings will be flagging. There will be some pretty significant opposition to some of the administration's policies and we may even see fractures within the Democratic party in Congress," said Jacobs. Congressman Tim Walz (DFL-1st Dist.) says many Democrats, including himself, were able to link their political opponents to the Bush White House, because their opponents so frequently voted yes on Bush's agenda.
Walz says the new administration can not count on his vote just because he's a Democrat.
Walz has already opposed Obama on the issue of releasing the second half of the Wall Street bailout. Just like Bush, Walz said Obama doesn't have a good plan for spending the money.
"Obviously we're excited. We've got a new president, but I also know, and have very much over the last few days, Mark, been expressing, I'm here as part of article one of the constitution and the checks and balances," said Walz.
Congressman John Kline (R-2nd Dist.) says it has so far been a pleasure to deal with the Obama transition.
"Well it's been interesting for us, and pleasing frankly, to see President Obama reaching out and asking for Republican input," said Kline.
Kline says it remains to be seen what Obama will do with GOP suggestions. Like Democrat Walz, Republican Kline is concerned about releasing the second half of the Wall Street bailout, considering how the first half ended up getting spent.
While Kline applauds Obama for reaching out to Republicans, he says it's a different story in Congress. He says House leaders seem largely unwilling to hear Republican concerns.
The last time Democrats controlled the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives was when when Bill Clinton first took office 16 years ago. Democrats lost their majorities in Congress just two years later.
U of M's Larry Jacobs says there are good reasons for Obama to include Republicans.
"The calculation here is that if you get Republicans signing on to, let's say, the stimulus package, it is going to help Democrats down the road, perhaps in a mid-term election in being able to say this was not a Democratic proposal and legislation, this was a Congressional-Obama administration proposal that included very strong bipartisan support. The bipartisan support is inoculation againstfuture partisan attack," said Jacobs.
Republicans aside, Obama has already run into problems with his own party. Some Democrats think Obama's economic stimulus plan cuts taxes too much and the new president was unable to meet his goal of having a stimulus plan for his signature on his first day in office.
- All Things Considered, 01/20/2009, 4:53 p.m.