Senate Democrats had grand plans for the month of July, but delays on both health care and climate change legislation have forced them to put off all their heavy lifting for what promises to be a very long fall. Still, Democrats say they leave town this week for the monthlong August recess buoyed by the things they were able to accomplish and with a renewed sense of optimism about the health care debate.Were heading home with our heads held high because weve done some good work, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday.The last two things Senate Democrats did before rushing to the airport Thursday night was confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and pass a $2 billion extension of the popular cash for clunkers auto trade-in program.Even with a $787 billion economic stimulus, an equal pay bill, and an expansion of childrens health insurance under their belt already this year, the next five months are likely to be the true defining moments for the legacy of the 111th Congress and that includes the normally sleepy August recess.Democrats spent the past week preparing themselves to use the recess to recapture control of the health care debate, which polls show has been rapidly losing public support. The health care tutorials they received included tips on how to deal with the unruly crowds of protesters that have been popping up at town-hall meetings and other events around the country. One senior Senate Democratic aide said lawmakers are leaving town feeling optimistic largely because of the leaderships decision to hold two special Member meetings -- one on health care policy and one on public relations talking points along with the White Houses commitment to use the presidents bully pulpit to reinforce the Members message.They got more information, and they feel better about it, said the aide. The White House swooped down on the Senate twice this week once bringing the entire Democratic Conference over for a presidential pep talk and once having senior adviser and campaign-guru David Axelrod come to the Hill to outline the message strategy. In doing so, the president and Senate leaders tried to downplay the intraparty rift over whether to create a public health insurance plan and emphasize health insurance reform issues such as free preventive health care and the elimination of pre-existing condition clauses on which most Democrats, and even some Republicans, agree.My sense is people are going to go back to their states with a high degree of confidence about what we stand for and about what most Americans believe in, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said. So Im pretty confident that we come back in the fall and [well] be able to move forward. Dodd led the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees two-and-a-half-week markup of its health care measure as a stand-in for the ailing chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.