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Senate GOP: Light at the End of the Iraq Tunnel?

The political battle over positioning on the Iraq war has unquestionably been The Story so far in the 110th Congress.

Domestic issues have taken a substantial backseat to, first, the symbolic fight to pass non-binding language opposing President Bush's troop surge into Baghdad, followed by the two-month-and-counting battle over the nearly $100 billion in supplemental funding for the Iraq war.

Despite an overwhelming opposition to the handling of the Iraq war, Senate Republican leaders now believe that they are seeing public opinion move to their advantage. According to a memo from the Senate Republican Conference, there is "increasing frustration" with Congress for not passing substantive legislation now that we're more than four months into the year.

As evidence, the conference memo points to an Associated Press poll released today that shows 35 percent of voters approve of the way Congress is handling its job, which is a five-point drop from the AP-Ipsos poll from early April. According to the poll, 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the job of the Democratically controlled Congress.

"There are also signs that the failure to approve supplemental funding after nearly 100 days of debate is having a negative effect on Democrat approval ratings," the memo states. The Senate GOP conference is chaired by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who is considered the No. 3 Republican leader.

To be sure, Kyl's staff doesn't point out the long-term arc of congressional approval ratings. One year ago at this point, the Republican-controlled Congress was mired in a public relations disaster, with just 25 percent of Americans approving and 71 percent disapproving of the work on Capitol Hill, according to AP-Ipsos.

For the rest of 2006, congressional approval never climbed up to 30 percent. But once Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) grabbed the speaker's gavel in early January, that number topped 30 percent. Since then the approval number has climbed to 32 percent in early January and up to 40 percent last month, settling at 35 percent now, according to AP-Ipsos.

It's unclear whether that's a sign of a free-fall to continue or about where the partisan lines will be drawn for now.

The entire Senate GOP memo is attached below. Feel free to read for yourself and make your own judgment on the Republican view of the lay of the land.

Memorandum

Date: May 11, 2007
To: Senate Republican Communicators
From: Senate Republican Conference
RE: Recent Survey Data on Democrat Congress

A number of new public opinion surveys show movement among the American public regarding their impressions of the Democrats in Congress. The surveys show increasing public frustration with the Democrat Congress' inability to pass substantive legislation. There are also signs that the failure to approve supplemental funding after nearly 100 days of debate is having a negative effect on Democrat approval ratings.

An Unproductive, Do-Nothing Congress

Public support for Democrats in Congress is beginning to slip as they continue to focus on efforts to block funding for the war rather than passing any meaningful legislation. The Associated Press highlighted a survey which found only 35 percent approve of how Congress is handling its job, down 5 percentage points in a single month. The AP reported that "[p]eople think the Democratic-led Congress is doing just as dreary a job as President Bush, following four months of bitter political standoffs that have seen little progress on Iraq and a host of domestic issues." [Associated Press, "Poll: Congress' Approval Same As Bush," May 11, 2007]

This poll follows an article this week in the Washington Post with similar findings. It reported that, "Not a single priority on the Democrats' agenda has been enacted, and some in the party are growing nervous that the 'do nothing' tag they slapped on Republicans last year could come back to haunt them." [Washington Post, "Democrats' Momentum is Stalling," May 11, 2007]. The article noted that a recent ABC/Washington Post poll reported that 73 percent of Americans believe Congress has done "not too much" or "nothing at all."

Iraq: Evidence of Democrat Overreaching

A close look at polls on Iraq show that, while public opposition to the war remains consistent, there are some signs that Democrats may be overreaching in their attempts to cut off funding for the war. When asked who is more responsible for the troops not having funding, 44 percent blamed congressional Democrats, while 34 percent blamed President Bush. [CNN/Opinion Research Poll, May 4-6, 2007]. Importantly, while a majority of the public (57 percent) believes that the president strongly supports the troops, less than a third (31 percent) of the public believes that Democrats in Congress strongly support our troops.

Additionally, there are signs that the public supports the position of many Republicans on a compromise to provide supplemental funding for the troops. 61 percent of Americans favor an Iraq bill that sets benchmarks for the Iraqis but not a date for withdrawal. Many Senate Republicans have expressed support for this position, and President Bush said today that he was willing to consider benchmarks. This proposal received stronger support than the Democrat alternative of setting a timeline for withdrawal of the troops.

Taken together, these numbers show that Democrats may have focused too much effort on satisfying the left wing of their party on the war in Iraq rather than working to build a record of accomplishment as they pledged to do during the last election cycle.

By Paul Kane  |  May 11, 2007; 6:12 PM ET
Categories:  Iraq , Senate  
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