Barely six months after their November triumph, Democrats have backed away from their top two policy priorities, leaving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., foundering on the key issues of Iraq and congressional corruption.

After challenging the White House with a pork-stuffed emergency supplemental funding bill that would have required U.S. military forces to begin pulling out of Iraq by a certain date, Democrats watched President Bush veto that measure, then dithered as he stood like a stone wall daring them to do it again. This week, the Democratic leadership caved, approving emergency legislation that includes 18 benchmarks, but no withdrawal — i.e., surrender — date. That outcome was a given once Bush decided to hold firm because the longer funding was delayed, the more Democrats became exposed to charges they were abandoning U.S. troops in the field. . . .

Similarly, the Democrats’ vow to end the “culture of corruption” in Congress has proven to be empty campaign rhetoric. Only two Democrats joined 187 Republicans on Wednesday in supporting an unsuccessful motion to discipline Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., for violating an ethics rules approved by the House in January. Murtha crossed the line when he threatened to bar spending sought by two Republicans who questioned earmarks in his home district.

The same day, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., disclosed that earmarks will be inserted into bills only after they’ve been approved by the House and sent to conference committees with the Senate. Under this newly rigged process, there won’t be any of those pesky amendments against things like the Bridge to Nowhere. In fact, House members will only be voting on conference committee reports, not on the thousands of earmarks that will be inserted into the bills covered by those reports. In other words, after some tentative moves in the right direction earlier this year, Democrats are now putting the corrupt system disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff called the congressional “favor factory” back behind closed doors.

Who will be the Democrats’ Abramoff? Because someone will be.