WASHINGTON—Conceding almost certain Republican gains in next month's crucial midterm elections, Democratic lawmakers vowed Tuesday not to give up without making one final push to ensure their party runs away from every major legislative victory of the past two years.
Party leaders told reporters that regardless of the ultimate outcome, they would do everything in their power from now until the polls closed to distance themselves from their hard-won passage of a historic health care overhaul, the toughest financial regulations since the 1930s, and a stimulus package most economists now credit with preventing a second Great Depression.
"There's a great deal on the line, and we know it isn't going to be easy for us," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), speaking from the steps of the Capitol. "But if we suffer defeat, we will do so knowing we cowered away from absolutely anything we produced that was even remotely progressive or valuable in any way."
"And we will keep cowering right up until Election Day," Reid continued. "From Maine to Hawaii, in big cities and small towns, we will collapse into a fetal position and refuse to take credit for our successes anywhere voters could conceivably be swayed by learning what we have achieved on their behalf."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) acknowledged the task would be difficult, but said Democrats would remain steadfast in permitting their opponents to deride the accomplishments of the $787 billion Recovery Act, even as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the 2009 measure has created millions of jobs.
"While the stimulus isn't a cure-all, we owe it to the voters to scatter like pigeons whenever the Republicans grossly mischaracterize it as a wasteful giveaway," Pelosi said. "Their sleazy, cynical distortions may win them votes in the end, but we will not let that happen without doing whatever it takes to sit idly by and let them get away with it."
According to party leaders, the Democrats are putting their sweeping new health care law at the top of the list of accomplishments to back away from, mainly by allowing its most popular provisions—federal subsidies to make health care more affordable; allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26; and rules that prevent sick people from being denied coverage—to be summarily dismissed as "Obamacare."
"Thanks to our efforts, a lot of people don't even realize they may already be benefiting from these reforms," Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) said. "They certainly don't realize they might be one of the 30 million currently uninsured people who will be provided coverage by the time the law is fully enacted."
"You can be certain we'll keep that information a deep, dark secret until we're thrown out of power," Bean added.
Political consultant James Carville praised the strategy, saying it was gratifying to see the party dissociate itself from what he described as some of the most useful and principled laws passed in nearly half a century.
"It's the ninth inning now, and Democrats are finally getting serious about hiding in the weeds at the slightest mention of last year's credit-card legislation, which put an end to predatory lending schemes that are universally considered repugnant," Carville said. "Now that's smart politics, right there. The chips may be down, but they're still finding a way to curl up like a bunch of pathetic little hedgehogs and piss all over themselves the moment any sort of challenge is mounted."
When reached for comment, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters he wasn't surprised his opponents were disowning policies he described as "disastrous for the economy, disastrous for families, and disastrous for America's future."
"And, what the heck, put down that it's disastrous for our men and women in uniform," McConnell said. "Might as well."