Congressional Democrats will have plenty to ponder during the Christmas-New Year recess. For instance, why did things go so badly this fall, and how well did their leaders serve them?
Partisan players will quarrel for months, but objective analysts say the debate must start here: An embattled president made extraordinary use of his veto power and he was backed by GOP lawmakers who may have put their political fortunes at risk.
Also, a new Democratic leadership team overestimated the impact of the Iraq war and the 2006 elections, learning too late they had no tools to force Bush and his allies to compromise on bitterly contested issues.
Both parties seem convinced that voters will reward them 11 months from now. And they agree that Congress' gridlock and frustration are likely to continue until then — and possibly beyond — unless the narrow party margins in the House and Senate change appreciably.
In a string of setbacks last week, Democratic leaders in Congress yielded to Bush and his GOP allies on Iraqi war funding, tax and health policies, energy policy and spending decisions affecting billions of dollars throughout the government.
The concessions stunned many House and Senate Democrats, who saw the 2006 elections as a mandate to redirect the war and Bush's domestic priorities. Instead, they found his goals unchanged and his clout barely diminished.
Facing a Democratic-run Congress after six years of GOP control, Bush repeatedly turned to actual or threatened vetoes, which can be overridden only by highly elusive two-thirds majority votes in both congressional chambers.
Bush's reliance on veto threats was so remarkable that "it's hard to say there are precedents for it," said Steve Hess, a George Washington University government professor whose federal experience began in the Eisenhower administration.