After pushing Democratic leaders for nearly three weeks to stop trying to find the one bill that could reverse the majoritys poor election prospects, vulnerable House and Senate Democrats finally got what they wanted: an early ticket home to campaign.
But the party remains as divided as ever on its pre-election strategy, with some Members warning that Democrats will regret not drawing a sharper contrast with Republicans on middle-class tax cuts in particular.
In preparing to leave town Wednesday night, Democratic leaders in both chambers bowed not only to demands that they leave a week and a half earlier than planned but also scrapped contentious votes on extending Bush-era tax cuts to accommodate nervous Members up for re-election.
The primary accomplishment of the post-August-recess work period was a small-business lending bill that the Senate passed two weeks ago and the House passed last week. Except for a vote this week to take up a bill that would keep the government funded through the elections, all other major Senate votes ended in GOP-led filibusters. The Senate on Wednesday evening passed, 69-30, the stopgap spending bill to keep the government running before adjourning until mid-Novembers lame-duck session.
I think theres a sense of relief that everyones going home to work for the next 30 days, because [Washington] is a very frustrating place to be right now with the games that have been played for the last six months, said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who isnt up for re-election until 2012.
Republicans looked on in bemusement, prepared to try to capitalize on the Democrats weakness. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) accused the Democrats on the House floor this week of having lost the will to govern, failing to pass a budget and leaving without addressing tax cuts.
And when House Democrats barely mustered a 210-209 vote to adjourn, Republicans charged that every Democrat who voted to get out of town was effectively voting for a tax hike.
House Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said adjourning without extending the tax cuts shows an appalling failure of leadership on the part of House Democrats, particularly at a time when millions of our fellow Americans are struggling to find a job.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) agreed that Democrats rushing to head home have little on which to campaign.