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Capitol Hill Democrats Have Met Their Enemy and It Is Them

Earlier this week, I asked a veteran Washington-based Democratic political operative who has worked for more than his share of liberals whether he had seen any indication that grass-roots “progressives” were getting angry with the party’s performance on Capitol Hill and were starting to make their anger known.

“No. No. Not yet,” he said, shaking his head. “Right now we are just happy to be in the majority. We were out of power for a long time,” he laughed. “But it will come; it will come,” sighed the Washington veteran, looking as if he might like either a glass of scotch or at least a couple of aspirin.

Twenty-four hours later, I was interviewing a reliably liberal Democratic candidate running in 2010 in a swing state. I asked him what he will say when his formidable Republican opponent argues that the country doesn’t need yet more Democrats in Washington, D.C. — that it needs more officeholders who will act as a check on President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

“I’ll say that if you look at what has been happening in Congress right now, we appear to have plenty of Democrats who are acting as checks on Democrats in Washington,” he answered with a smile.

Rattle off names such as Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) or Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) to a member of Democratic House or Senate leadership, and they are likely to think, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Democratic Blue Dogs and deficit hawks are showing their muscle right now. Whether it’s out of principle or merely a political reflection of the president’s loss of support on health care among independent voters in a number of recent surveys, moderates in the president’s own party are now driving the bus.

The Democratic grass roots so far have been patient with Congress, but at some point that patience may wear out.

Few people outside of the political class understand how Capitol Hill works, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many Democrats around the country assumed that a 60-seat Senate, an overwhelmingly Democratic House and a Democratic president would pass a health care bill with a public insurance option rather easily.

Ultimately, the president is likely to get a health care bill that he will sign. No bill means broken promises by both the White House and the Congressional leadership, and with the healthy majorities that Democrats have on Capitol Hill, blaming Republicans will almost certainly not work, no matter how damaged the GOP brand currently is.

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