WASHINGTON -- As Congress gets poised to reconvene for the lame-duck session, conservatives appear extraordinarily organized in their effort to effectively stall any legislative action.
A host of outside-government groups have stepped up their mobilization to ensure that the policy advancements that Democrats want to pursue while they still have favorable numbers in Congress simply get stalled due to timidity or in getting buried by the opposition.
The Tea-Party-aligned Freedom Works has launched a no lame duck vertical on its website. Newt Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future has sent out a letter petitioning members of Congress to "not participate in a Lame Duck session." Karl Rove's American Action Network has called for Congress to pass two items -- an extension of Bush tax cuts for all Americans and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution - and then, "adjourn." The American Policy Center has begun a nationwide protest against the lame duck session, while the Traditional Values Coalition has threatened massive demonstrations.
"We do not feel it was right that a Congress defeated would come back and basically try and nullify the election. This lame duck session is a payback to various constituencies and a down payment for 2012," said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition. "If Democrats begin pushing items, I think people are going to freak... We are also looking at this in long term, if there are people who go along with this charade, this scam, people will remember in two years. People are going to remember. This is not going away... You might even see pitchforks at the capital, who knows."
The specter of pitchforks may be alarming for Democrats reconvening on November 15. But it's also just a twist on a traditional threat lawmakers have faced and ignored in the past. The passage of health care reform, for instance, came in the midst of loud protesting outside of Congress. But leadership did it anyway.
That said, just because Democrats have moved bills over howls and objections before doesn't mean that they are particularly interested in doing so again. And while the party is hoping to tackle some weighty items before the new session starts in early January, there is concern that the election drubbing and mobilized conservative opposition will compel them to punt.
Democratic operatives have spoken openly about what they feel is a lack of a unified push on their side of the aisle that could leave the party empty-handed on immigration reform, unemployment insurance and judicial appointments. On the Bush tax cuts, meanwhile, the debate seems destined to be negotiated on the GOP's terms.
The strongest organizing, indeed, is being done around pet projects rather than a universal vision. A coalition of groups, for instance, has taken aggressive steps to pre-frame the upcoming debate over Social Security reform and sending additional checks to seniors who didn't receive cost of living adjustments.
It's ironic, in a way. Having proven reluctant to push legislative items during the months before the election, Democrats find themselves in a precarious position to make a concerted push after the fact. And yet, conservatives are approaching the next month and a half as if the party's appetite for drastic measures is uncontrollable.
"This may be a case of what intelligence analysts call mirror imaging," said David Frum, a longtime conservative scribe and former Bush adviser. "Republicans are so certain that Democrats have this vigorous clear lame duck session agenda that they have mobilized about what they think Democrats are willing to do... They give Democrats much more credit than Democrats give themselves."