Listen to President Bush and his political team these days and their closing argument for the final two weeks of the midterm election campaign rings clear: Elect the Democrats, the White House says, and get a weaker war on terror and higher taxes.
"The voters out there need to ask the question: Which political party will support the brave men and women that wear the uniform when they do their job of protecting America," is one way Mr. Bush has framed the issue in recent speeches.
The Vice President echoes that, and what you might call the White House pocketbook pitch. Says Mr. Cheney: "If the Democrats take control, American families could face an immense tax increase and the economy would sustain a major hit."
Lost in that pointed rhetoric is this reality: Even if Democrats take both the House and the Senate, Mr. Bush will be president for two more years and could use his veto to block any Democratic legislation. Even Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean concedes Mr. Bush could ignore the Democratic agenda if he so chooses, especially calls for a plan to bring the troops home from Iraq.
"We're not going to be able to change the policy overnight," Dean told CNN on Tuesday. "That's going to require a new president."
Winning one or both chambers of Congress though would give Democrats a major policy platform, to push for:
- raising the minimum wage
- repealing Bush tax cuts for upper income Americans
- revisiting the new Medicare prescription drug benefit
- and using the tax code or other incentives to make health care more affordable and accessible.
"If the Democrats win the Congress they will have a seat at the table, they will have a voice in policy but the president still has the veto," former Clinton administration aide Michael Waldman says.
For Democrats, one challenge if they retake the House, which even many Republicans see as a distinct possibility, would be to pick and choose their fights with the White House. Some Democrats who are in line for committee chairmanships for example have talked of impeaching Mr. Bush, or in the past have urged Republicans to join them in issuing subpoenas for administration records on issues ranging from Cheney's energy task force to defense contracts to Halliburton and other firms.
Mindful of the risks of alienating voters with partisanship, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, according to top advisers, already has told senior Democrats she would draw a sharp line betweeen legitimate oversight and investigations that could be cast as partisan witchhunts.
Waldman put it this way: "Revenge is a bad idea. It's a bad idea and the public doesn't like it. Oversight is not only a good idea, it's what the public is demanding."
We're tackling this subject on tonight's show, so we'd like to hear your thoughts. If Democrats are able to win one or both chambers of Congress, how much will they be able to get done?