Sometimes the impending loss of power can cause people to say strange things. Consider House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who told reporters last week, "I don't really even have the time to pay attention" to the attacks on her. "This is what campaigns are about. I sort of, like, thrive on them."
Really? It's hard to imagine Mrs. Pelosi likes the ads run by at least seven Democratic House incumbents distancing themselves from her agenda, such as the stimulus, cap and trade, and ObamaCare. Or the comments in recent weeks by Reps. Chet Edwards (a trusted Texas lieutenant), Heath Shuler (North Carolina) and Zack Space (Ohio), all of whom declined to support her re-election, saying they don't even know who will run for speaker. Does she appreciate Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright, who said late last month, "Heck, she might even get sick and die"?
Mrs. Pelosi also faces an uprising by 37 House Democrats who back extending all the Bush tax cuts. Most of them signed a letter on Sept. 15 saying "given the continued fragility of our economy and slow pace of recovery . . . raising any taxes right now could negatively impact economic growth." With 179 Republicans in the House, just one more Democratic defection and there could be a majority for continuing the Bush tax cuts right now.
There is similar discontent among Senate Democrats. It appears impossible that Majority Leader Harry Reid can pass any tax bill. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus is rumored to be unveiling his proposal within days, but no one seems to know what will be in it. There have been no substantive discussions among the finance committee's members, a precondition for any sincere attempt to legislate.
Meanwhile, the president refuses to provide his own proposal. This is especially disappointing given that Mr. Obama's budget requires that the $3 trillion of Bush tax cuts he favors be offset by tax increases. So whose trillions of oxen does Mr. Obama want to gore with higher taxes just 40 days before the election? He won't say, proving he's not really serious about resolving his tax mess now.
Instead, he's content to ensnare Democrats in a losing game by asking them to extend the Bush tax cuts before they adjourn—only for those making less than $250,000. But with less than two weeks before Congress adjourns, Democrats can't pass a tax cut through either chamber.
So why are they even trying to take it up now? It will leave the president and Democratic lawmakers looking disorganized, incompetent and impotent. No wonder Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) questioned the sanity of Democratic leaders. "I don't know who takes a tax vote, in their right mind, just before an election," she told the Daily Caller on Tuesday.
Mrs. Feinstein knows of what she speaks. Depending on how the question is asked, polls show as many as two out of every three Americans want to continue the Bush tax cuts and oppose raising taxes on anyone right now because of the feeble economy.
Still, Democrats have achieved something significant. Just before a crucial election, they have cemented their party's reputation as tax-happy.
Given this ineptness, there will be a temptation for Republicans to ease up, say little of substance, and play out the clock. But in politics, it is never wise to count on the opposition to keep making mistakes. Democrats will get their act together sometime.
Republicans must reinvigorate the national conversation about jobs and economic growth, the stimulus, spending, deficits and ObamaCare, and then present constructive proposals of their own to meet the nation's challenges.
That's why today's release of the House GOP's "Pledge to America" is so important. It presents practical steps to create jobs, control spending, repeal ObamaCare, reform Washington and keep America secure. Much of it is embodied in legislation that can be voted on right now.
The only thing Congress must do before it leaves town is fund the government. The "Pledge" would freeze the tax code for two years and fund non-defense spending at 2008 levels—before the bailouts and stimulus. Mrs. Pelosi would lose if this were voted upon, even with her current huge majority. So it's unlikely she'll allow the GOP proposal to be considered. But she can't stop Republicans from making their point on spending and taxes.
What's brought Republicans so close to victory are their deep differences with Democrats. Now's the time to emphasize those policy disagreements in every way possible. Keeping the fight on the big issues will strengthen the powerful current that's set to sweep Democrats from office.
This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, September 22, 2010.