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'06 Will Be a Barroom Brawl

If you don't like bare-knuckle politics, or you think the country is too partisan or there's too much bickering in Washington, I suggest you plug your ears for the next year. Better yet, take a 12-month vacation.  Because all indications are that 2006 is going to be one of the roughest, most vicious, most rancorous political years we've seen in some time.

It's all going to start next week with the Judiciary Committee hearings for Sam Alito. Millions of dollars are being pumped into ad campaigns for and against Alito as we speak. Though it's still unclear whether Dems will pull the trigger on a filibuster, they've promised to give Alito a good roughing up. And, contrary to the infinite patience and congeniality displayed by John Roberts last year, Alito is apparently ready to give as good as he gets in the hearing room.

Shortly thereafter we'll get the promised hearings on the NSA surveillance program, an event guaranteed to generate partisan grandstanding and histrionics on a level not seen since the 9/11 Commission. We'll also see Congress revisit the debate over the Patriot Act in early February when the law's five-week extension runs out.

Democrats have promised to wrap all these things together into a neat little package, put a bow on top and serve it to the American people as proof the Republicans are running roughshod over the Bill of Rights, trampling civil liberties and invading people's privacy. Before leaving D.C. for the holidays Dick Durbin told reporters, "We will initiate at the beginning of this year one of the most serious debates and discussions on Capitol Hill in our history about individual rights and liberties."

Democrats have made some poor political judgements in the past few years, but this could potentially turn out to be one of the worst.  Republicans see an opportunity to make this a redux of Homeland Security in 2002 and they're clearly relishing the prospect of using it against the Dems:

One Republican aide said he looks forward to posting pictures of Mr. Cleland around the Capitol during the Patriot Act debate as a warning to Democrats that they will face a similar political demise. 

For his part, President Bush seems ready to rumble as well. Bush learned two valuable lessons in the last few weeks of 2005: 1) take Dick Cheney's advice and stay focused on the basics of Iraq and the economy and 2) stay in permanent campaign mode, aggressively promoting and defending your policies. As a result, after taking off the first nine months of last year the White House is going to start 2006 by taking off the gloves:

When attacked in 2006, "we'll aggressively set the record straight," says White House counselor Dan Bartlett. GOP strategist Terry Holt says, "If we learned anything this year, it's 'hit back, hit back hard and fast.' "

Amidst the inevitable mudslinging between the White House and Congressional Democrats we'll also have the ongoing investigation of Jack Abramoff and the trial of Tom DeLay in Texas, all leading to a climax in November with the midterm elections.

Democrats believe they have a chance of recapturing either the House or the Senate if they can sufficiently nationalize the '06 elections around the theme of Republican corruption - and now perhaps Republican big brotherism as well. But as Jay Cost explained recently, the current electoral landscape makes it extremely unlikely the Democrats will find success retaking either chamber. The result will probably be a year full of brass knuckle brawling from start to finish, with neither side having much to show for it in the end.