Monday, May 19, 2008

More Members, More Problems

The Times reports on the “Unintended Consequences of the House Democrats’ Winning Streak.” An excerpt:

While much of the Congressional political focus has been on the declining fortunes and numbers of House Republicans, House Democrats have their own problem – they are winning too many elections. By prevailing in conservative locales where they ordinarily would not have a chance, Democrats are widening the ideological divide in their own ranks and complicating their ability to find internal consensus.

It is a nice problem to have, but it is one that can bedevil party leaders. As their numbers expand, they have to juggle the competing interests of Travis Childers, the new pro-gun, pro-life, anti-tax Democrat from northern Mississippi and someone like, say, Nancy Pelosi, a pro-choice, pro-gun control liberal from San Francisco who sees government as a solution.

Ms. Pelosi, who as speaker will have the job of managing these increasingly divergent philosophies, said it is to the advantage of both the party and the nation to mesh such differing views. “We welcome the diversity of opinion that exists in our country, and we want our solutions to America’s problems to reflect that diversity,” she said.

But the strain of balancing the political imperatives of a right-of-center to pretty far left-of-center caucus has already strained the Democratic majority in the House. In the most recent example, the party’s intricate scheme for passing a war spending bill collapsed Thursday when most Republicans sat out the war money vote and most Democrats, who oppose spending any more money on combat in Iraq, voted against it.

That left the Democratic majority without the votes to pass a spending bill that, in the leadership’s calculation, is essential to protecting the party’s image on national security as well as members from conservative districts who cannot afford to be seen as failing to support troops in the field. Most of those lawmakers, including many freshmen, backed the war funds. The money will no doubt be approved eventually, but the outcome exposed a vexing divide among Democrats on handling of the war spending. Of course, the vote also left Republicans trying to explain why they were abstaining on financing a war they support as the crucial front in the war on terror, but that is another story.

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