Congress a target rich environment for McCain

Karl Rove:

Democrats and Republicans have scripted their conventions as tightly as possible. But after delegates return home with buttons, badges and banners, the curtain will rise on a more unruly drama: the fall session of Congress. And it could affect the November election more than the conventions.

The House and Senate return to Washington Monday, Sept. 8. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hope it will be a short session, ending on Sept. 26. That will allow members to go home and campaign, not to return until after Election Day. Good luck.

Congress hasn't yet passed any one of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. And Congress isn't likely to pass them through both houses and get them to the president before leaving town.

The goal here for Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi is to delay passing a budget until the next president is inaugurated. If the Democrats get their wish and sweep the November elections, Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony will mark the opening of the spending floodgates.

Before they get there, however, this Congress must first pass stopgap legislation that will pay the federal government's bills for the next few months. Usually, that is done with a "continuing resolution," a bill that simply funds the government at its current level for a short period of time.

But a continuing resolution is fraught with political problems for Democrats. Members, desperate for their election-year pork-barrel spending, could band together and threaten to withhold support if their earmarks are not inserted into spending bills. If that happens, say goodbye to Democratic claims of fiscal responsibility.

Another problem is oil. There is a congressional ban on drilling on the outer continental shelf that will expire on Oct. 1, if it isn't first reauthorized. Typically, the ban is reauthorized as part of the Interior Department appropriations bill. But this year the president says he will veto that bill if the House and Senate don't allow an up-or-down vote on drilling there.

That sets up a political showdown. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid could try stuffing the ban into the continuing resolution. But that runs the risk of a government shutdown over spending and increasing domestic energy supplies -- a fight that is sure to focus public attention just weeks before the election.

Adding fuel to this fire is Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democrat in charge of increasing his party's majority in the Senate. He said recently that "the drilling issue has peaked," and is therefore less inclined to support a compromise to open the outer continental shelf. Normally politically acute, Mr. Schumer is either bluffing or out of touch with public opinion, which seems to favor Republicans on the issue nearly everywhere.


Schumer has been looking silly on energy this year. He claims that increased US production want lower prices, but increased Saudi production will. No wonder he wants that issue to go away.

The fact is that the voters know the Democrats are the main problem when it comes to energy. Republicans have effectively used the issue while the Democrats were on vacation. I suspect that when the Democrats got back home they heard from constituents on the need for drilling. If even Santa Barbara California is voting for offshore drilling the Democrats are in trouble on this issue.

They are also in trouble on their inability to govern. Their lackluster list of accomplishments is a record to run away from.


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