Democrats Admit: “We Are Our Own Worst Enemies”

The new Congress sweeps into town Tuesday with many members comparing themselves to the 1933 Congress that enacted much of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and changed the government’s relationship to its citizenry.

The Wll Street Journal

These times are very different from 1933, when the 73rd Congress enacted 16 major laws during Mr. Roosevelt’s First 100 Days. Today’s economy, for all its struggles, doesn’t remotely resemble the turmoil of the Great Depression, with its 25% unemployment. Also, the public’s appetite for broad change isn’t yet clear.

None of this is deterring the Democrats. Like the Congress of 76 years ago, they are converging on Washington with a popular new president, significant congressional majorities and, perhaps most important, a shaken public eager for government to try something new.

“We are at a unique moment in history — we have an opportunity that maybe comes only once in a generation,” Rep. Henry Waxman said recently. “We may well turn out to be as historical as the Congress was in 1933.”

Democrats see the best chance in decades to expand health coverage, move toward energy independence, tackle climate change and re-regulate the financial-services industry.

“We certainly have the obligation to attack big problems,” says Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, sitting under a large photo of Mr. Roosevelt in his personal office. “We have been playing small-ball for a long time here.”

The first order of business on the Democrats’ agenda will be acting on a two-year economic-stimulus package. Still under construction, the plan could be as large as $775 billion, and it could include about $300 billion in tax cuts, $350 billion in infrastructure spending and billions more in aid to states and other measures. Democratic leaders hope to have the bill on President-elect Barack Obama’s desk by mid-February.

Underlying the recovery plan and the Democrats’ other agenda items is a determination to shift the nation’s economic balance of power back to workers and the middle class — by making it easier for employees to unionize, pushing banks to restructure mortgages and rewrite credit rules, and providing health coverage to more people.

What’s to stop the Democrats? There are serious obstacles, starting with the party itself, which is hardly unified. Some Democratic congressional factions, like the more-conservative Blue Dogs, are deeply suspicious of expanded federal spending. Democrats from old industrial states worry that colleagues from California want to be too hard on the auto industry. Coal-state Democrats fear the party’s environmental wing will go too far with efforts to clamp down on fossil fuels.

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