A more liberal second half?

A MORE LIBERAL SECOND HALF?…. The first half of 2009 on Capitol Hill has seen Congress focus the bulk of its attention on the economy, the budget, health care and energy. And while those last two are still very much on the front burner, Roll Call reports today that the second half of the year will likely feature more work on domestic social issues, most notably on gay rights.

…House Democratic leaders are starting to show signs that they are now ready to push key aspects of the gay rights agenda.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team met privately last week with Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — the three openly gay Members of Congress — to chart a strategy for advancing gay rights issues this Congress.

Sources in the meeting said Members discussed workplace discrimination, health care benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees, and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Lawmakers also discussed how to help the Senate pass hate crimes legislation that has already cleared the House and the possibility of rolling workplace discrimination and federal health benefits into one bill.

House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the original sponsor of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, has also agreed to hold hearings, revisiting the issue 16 years later.

The second half of the year is also likely to include a renewed debate over immigration reform, as evidenced by a meeting last week among key lawmakers plotting a legislative strategy. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) left feeling “very optimistic”; Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the meeting as “a real shot in the arm.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is committed to tackling immigration reform this year, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) sounded encouraged by the prospects.

I can’t remember the last year in which policymakers even tried to do this much in a single calendar year. Bush didn’t really have a policy agenda after 2005, so it’s good to see Congress wiping off the cobwebs. It’ll be even better if they can actually succeed.