Lots of people wonder why Reid and Senate Democrats were so willing, almost eager, to bargain the energy bill down to the point where it was a mere nubbin of its former robust self. Why not draw a line in the sand and force Republicans to take a stand against clean energy?

This story from Roll Call (sub rqd) sheds quite a bit of light on the matter:

Looking to pivot away from futile yearlong attempts to end the war in Iraq and increase domestic spending in the first half of the 110th Congress, Democratic leaders will dispatch Members home this week armed with a message focused on domestic accomplishments, as well as a bevy of potentially potent campaign issues heading into a crucial election year.

Countering the stinging disappointment for the party’s grass-roots faithful over the war in particular, Democrats are pointing to historic victories this year on three kitchen-table issues that are easily understood by voters, starting with an energy bill that contains the first increase in vehicle mileage standards since the 1970s – at a time when families are struggling with $3-a-gallon gas. The list of domestic achievements also includes an increase in the minimum wage for the first time in a decade and deep reductions in interest rates for college loans.

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“Democrats in Congress have made progress this year despite reckless opposition from the President and Republicans in Congress,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday. “This month, we will send the president historic energy independence legislation that increases fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks for the first time in a generation, a middle-class tax cut for 23 million Americans, and a final budget bill that addresses the priorities of the American people with new investments in education, cancer research, and law enforcement.”

Democrats also are warning Republicans that their obstructionism will cost them at the polls next year. Pelosi on Thursday described the Democrats having to give in on spending levels and other issues as “the political reality of not having a President of the United States. And nothing speaks more clearly to Democratic victories in the next election than when you see this is what is possible. This isn’t about caving. This is again about setting a high-water mark of values that is fiscally sound and gives priority to those issues that are relevant to the lives of the American people.”

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Other Republican victories, such as preventing oil companies from losing their tax breaks, protecting electric utilities from having to produce renewable electricity, and saving hedge fund managers from paying taxes on their offshore retirement assets, only reinforce Democrats’ arguments that the Republicans are the party of the status quo, Van Hollen said.

Democratic lawmakers plan to spotlight the energy package expected to reach completion this week, highlighting the issue not only in terms of environmental concerns, but also as a pocketbook and national security winner as well.

“In less than one year, the Democratic Congress did what some thought was impossible. It’s a tremendous victory that we plan to highlight across the country,” said one Democratic aide familiar with the platform.

In short: they badly need something, anything, to show voters.